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I am the walrus – and it’s clear that you are not - 70%

naverhtrad, December 14th, 2016

In defence of the (relatively) low score I’m giving here, let me just get this out of the way up front. Extinct Instinct is the weakest and least coherent of Threshold’s full-lengths. But, for crying out loud, that’s something like saying Motörhead’s debut wasn’t up to par with Overkill – which was just so decidedly kick-arse that it blew everything else away. If any other band had produced an album like Extinct Instinct, I’d likely give it a score of 16 or 17 instead of 14; but I’m judging this album by Threshold’s own ridiculously-high standards, which aren’t necessarily the standards I’d use even for other first-tier prog metal bands.

That said. Extinct Instinct is by no means a bad album. Even though it doesn’t quite hang together quite as well as Wounded Land or Psychedelicatessen, it’s plain that each of the elements is clearly developing apace. Damian Wilson is back with a vengeance for this one, and he’s clearly figured out that the more intricate, layered vocal harmonies (‘Eat the Unicorn’, ‘Virtual Isolation’) mesh particularly well with this sort of music – these get further refined and become a staple of later albums. The rhythm guitar and bass are as crisp and as fierce here as you’d expect them to be, and they’re making the best of that big doomy sound on ‘Lake of Despond’. Richard West is clearly angling toward a happy balance with his synths that allows for full, evocative atmospherics (the honky-tonk organ sound on ‘Somatography’ and ‘Life Flow’ is still brilliant, by the way) without drenching out or overburdening his fellow instrumentalists.

So why, then, does this album seem to stumble a bit? Firstly, I think they were trying a bit too hard to mimic what other prog bands were doing, and they allowed their experimentation to get a little bit sloppy and a little bit out-of-character. They introduce ambient noises and spoken-word samples in places where they don’t seem particularly appropriate. The female backing vocals and the slowed outro on ‘Eat the Unicorn’ almost work – you can tell the spacey, quasi-electronic effect they are going for – but the distorted ‘go, go’ gang-shouts on ‘The Whispering’… ehh, not so much. At times they seem to indulge oddity for oddity’s sake, and the result, when it is tried, is not a sweeping psychedelic nightmare-panorama as in Wounded Land’s ‘Sanity’s End’, but instead something which sounds more choppy and cluttered. And don’t look now, but I also believe that this is the first and only time ‘shit’ has been sung in Threshold’s lyrics. (Not a bad thing, mind you – just, as I said, out-of-character.)

Lyrically, too, this album is rather all over the place. There’s more of the personal-psychological angle dealing with trust, relationships (between lovers, between parents and children) and betrayal. There’s more of the ecologically- and socially-aware angle on ‘Somatography’. There’s more drug-fuelled Huxleyan and cyberpunk dystopian visions. There are philosophical reflections on nature and the universe. And then there’s just… plain… weird, abstract shit as well.

Extinct Instinct is still distinctly Threshold, though. That means that the musicianship is still sterling. That means the compositions are still memorable, never boring. And that means there’s still soul and heart to the music. As mentioned previously, I’m a big fan of the heavy, doomy stylings in ‘Lake of Despond’ and ‘Life Flow’. Even if ‘Exposed’ and ‘The Whispering’ have their bizarre turns, the tunes are still remarkably solid. ‘Part of the Chaos’ is itself brilliant: a vast, sprawling, cosmic epic foreshadowing some of Threshold’s best later-career work, one that ends in a subdued, almost Maiden-like coda (but with more of the ambient noise, this time sounding like it was recorded in a pub or a coffee shop).

So, yes, this album is a bit of an odd duck, one that doesn’t get put in rotation in my playlist as often as the rest of Threshold’s discography does. But every successful band has its growing pains, and this album certainly has its unique charms, and hints at the greatness to come.

14 / 20

Future's Only Just Begun - 88%

Dragonchaser, September 8th, 2014
Written based on this version: 1997, CD, Giant Electric Pea

On the whole, I dig Threshold's third album more than the two that preceded it, despite it being one of the band's most esoteric releases. The artwork for this one is quite fitting; this is a monolithic album full of twists, turns, and surprises, conjuring a strange atmosphere that is both unique and otherworldly. This was the second time vocalist Damien Wilson lent his mad pipes to a Threshold album, and while his voice might grate on some people (especially after Glynn Morgan's performance on the previous disc), his vocals here are pretty damn impressive, once you get used to their high-flying charm. He doesn't sound like anyone else, but he is certainly a skilled singer, so much so that he returned to front the band after Mac's death.

“Extinct Instinct” is definitely Threshold's most progressive and jagged release. It is also much looser and more vibrant than the slick, uber-polished “Psychedelicatessen”. The band rocket forth here, throwing everything into the pot, from odd time changes, weird vocal arrangements, heavy as hell riffing, and space-age symphonics. Opener “Exposed” pretty much sums up the roller-coaster ride that is “Extinct Instinct”, and the trend continues with bat-shit crazy tunes like “Eat The Unicorn”. There are more traditional cuts here, like the gloomy “Lake Of Despond” and “Virtual Isolation”, the catchiest song here. This album also saw Threshold experiment for the first time with huge backing vocals. They even bust out some gang chants on “The Whispering”, another oddball that brings an unpredictable nature to the record.

This is a long album, with a few less memorable tunes such as “Clear”, a nice but rather boring ballad, and “Part Of The Chaos”, which is a cool closer with a decent Savatage-esque middle-section, but little else. On the whole, Threshold did a good job here, considering this was released in 1997, and while this does wear its Yes, Genesis, and Dream Theater influences on its sleeve more than some of their later albums, fans of mature, captivating progressive metal should invest some time in “Extinct Instinct”, the last Threshold album before the dawn of the Mac era.

Great prog metal, although the vocalist sucks - 82%

panteramdeth, November 20th, 2004

Threshold has been one of the best kept secrets of UK metal bands for over a decade now, and this album proves that you can make a great-sounding progressive metal album with a less-than-stellar vocalist. If I was to describe the sound of this album, I would describe it as straight-on prog in the Dream Theater style, although with a much ballsier sound and not quite as keyboard-heavy. Most every song here is a highlight - minus the irritating tone of Damian Wilson's voice. He has an unusual delivery and occasionally sounds out-of-key to these ears. But take away the bad vocals, and you have yourself one of the better prog albums of the late 90's. This album has long been an underground progressive metal favorite.

The Highlights: The musicianship on just about every song is excellent, as every member of the band is tight, especially with the guitars. The guitar sound resembles heavier Dream Theater without too many jerk-off meandering solos, and better than average riffing. My favorite songs from here would be the full-of-time-changes as well as riffs "Eat The Unicorn", which has some good vocal harmonies in the chorus and toward the last time change of the song, and "The Whispering", which is very energetic. The chorus to this song actually has a good groove, and is nice to move your head to. "Somatography" is also full of time-changes and has some nice riff breaks throughout. It also makes the transition from light-to-heavy very well, and does so several times. "Virtual Isolation" has a well-played intro riff that sounds like latter-era Symphony X, and sounds almost futuristic lyrically. "Part Of The Chaos" ends the album which has a cool, almost anthemic-like chorus. Also, while there are keyboards on this album (like with many prog albums), they do not weaken the tracks. They actually give a lot of the tracks here very nice depth.

The lowlights: The ballads on this album, "Clear" and "The Whispering", while not as sappy than the ballads that would follow on Critical Mass a couple of albums later, really do little to add to the album. I do not think that Wilson's voice can carry any ballad well - his voice doesn't seem suited for them at all.

Who this album's for: Dream Theater and Symphony X fans will eat this stuff up. Also, this is a good introduction to this underrated prog outfit for anyone listening to this band for the first time.

The bottom line: Straight-on prog that is a must own for progressive metal fans, as long as they don't mind below-average vocals for the genre.