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Contented Is Not Wise - 75%

Dragonchaser, May 5th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2017, 2CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

Threshold had an incredible run of albums from 2001’s ‘Hypothetical’ all the way up to ‘For The Journey’ in 2014, putting out six unforgettable records that continuously refined this band’s unique, luscious sound, whilst dealing with Mac’s departure and sad death, no less. When Damian Wilson returned to the fold, Threshold entered a new phase of their career, taking everything they’d cemented on ‘Dead Reckoning’ and developing it further with the spellbinding ‘March Of Progress’, and while ‘For The Journey’ didn’t have the same commercial impact as its predecessor, I preferred its darker, more repentant sound. Not long after, Damian was out the band once again (I’m pretty sure we’ll get another album with Damian on vocals before they sign out for good), and to keep it in the family, they invited previous frontman Glynn Morgan back to the flock, and I couldn’t be happier to hear Glynn singing for this band again. They only put out one album with Glynn at the helm, 1994’s gnarly ‘Psychedelicatessen’, and he has big shoes to fill, given Damian’s talent and Mac’s legacy, but he does a good job here, even if I think ‘Legends Of The Shires’ is a step back for the band.

This is a double album, and as is usual with the format, it doesn’t justify the length. Disc two is way stronger than the first, being virtually spotless in my eyes, while the first one opens well but meanders in its opulence, and that’s where things start to hang loose. The reason for the regression is simple: this album was written for Damian. Glynn came pretty late in the process, and while he does his best to put his own stamp on things, you can hear Damian all over these vocal lines. Another reason I feel this is a relapse of sorts is because they are plagiarizing themselves in places, something Threshold have never really done before. The album opens in fine fashion with the first part of the ‘Shire’ theme, with a yearning clean guitar melody and a great vocal hook from Glynn, before bursting into ‘Small Dark Lines’, a classic Thresh banger with a jagged, scalpel-blade riff, a kick ass verse, and a fantastic chorus, one of Threshold’s trademarks. The tranquil choral backing vocals arranged by keyboardist Richard West are unmistakable, no matter who is performing them. Glynn’s rougher tone is reminiscent of Mac’s, and that, along with the more sedate, mellow, neo-prog styling of these songs, reminds me of older days, the stuff they were doing in the early 2000s. It separates ‘Legends Of The Shires’ from their recent, more metallic outings, and I actually really like the atmosphere of this album. There are still heavier tunes, like the careening ‘Snowblind’, but the band are at their strongest on this when they are being tender, reflective, and rueful, as with moments during ‘Stars And Satellites’, the three ‘Shire’ segments, and the world-ending ‘Lost In Translation’, one of their best songs ever. To be honest, my favorite tune here is a sensitive closing ballad named ‘Swallowed’, which gives me a lump in my throat every time I hear it. It’s a phenomenal song, one of the most arresting compositions West has put to paper.

The second disc is pretty much a straight flush, with only ‘State Of Independence’ being dispensable, I guess, but the first disc is what lets the album down. After the ass-kicking opener, we segue into ‘The Man Who Saw Through Time’, which is just a tired retread of ‘Pilot In The Sky Of Dreams’, but nowhere near as poignant or interesting. ‘Trust The Process’ has a great middle section, but its chorus drags. And ‘On The Edge’, while flashing some of the album’s more technical aspects, is just tedious and unexciting. Again, I think it’s just a case of too much material being put forth for this project; they failed to weed out the weaker links. That being said, a mediocre Threshold song is miles ahead of your usual prog metal dross, as these guys are master songwriters. This is a more laid back record on the whole, and instead of balancing up their epics with heavy, technical sections, they string it out for atmospheric purposes, which levitates this to new heights of euphoria, but conversely makes things drag.

‘Legends Of The Shires’ is a long, ambitious album, but it’s a record I’ve come back to during various points since it came out, and the more I spin it, the more it affects me. It’s a transitional album for Glynn, not one of the band’s strongest efforts, but putting this up against something as magisterial as ‘Subsurface’ is unfair. Taken on its own, it’s actually a great album, something all fans of melodic metal will enjoy. Just sit back and let its green, verdant canopies fall over you, and follow this band into the deep woods, in search of shelter from life’s decisions and woes.

Progressing back to the primitive. - 95%

hells_unicorn, November 1st, 2017
Written based on this version: 2017, 2CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

Much ado has been made about the idea of progress, no matter what the subject under consideration, there is this enduring sentiment in modern society that rings as vague as a political slogan about the idea of moving forward. For the past 100 years in the United States, or the colonies depending upon which direction the Atlantic Ocean lies from one's location, it has consumed the rhetoric of much of the body politic. But as with all vague notions, this one raises more questions than it really accomplishes anything. Progress to what end? In which direction are we even proceeding? Who's ideal future lay beyond the horizon? For who's advantage? However, when moving to a more specific subject such as musical direction, the hazy concept of progression takes on a sudden clarity, one that is very well exemplified in the lengthy career of British progressive metal extraordinaire outfit Threshold.

Though always a formidable force in the somewhat ironically stylized craft that they share with the likes of Dream Theater and Vanden Plas, the current year has brought about a rather auspicious circumstance for this band, as long absent lead vocalist of the seminal sophomore offering of this outfit Psychedelicatessen Glynn Morgan has returned to the fold. In comparison to his more prolific predecessors Mac and Damian Wilson, his voice work is a bit more traditionally geared, reminiscent of the airy yet soaring tenor of original Dream Theater helmsman Charles Dominici, but with a tad bit more power and grit. Perhaps the only thing that surpasses the curiosity of seeing said singer back in the driver's seat is the thematic departure that is Legends Of The Shires, Threshold's 11th studio offering, which takes a break from the futurist imagery that has often accompanied their music for a lush and green naturalistic opposite.

Despite the very different album art, which might hint that a stroll down the lyrical road of high fantasy with Tolkien as the guide, what occurs on here musically is a highly excellent excursion into familiar territory. It's a bit larger in scope than past offerings and ends up occupying two compact disks, but this conforms quite strongly to the tuneful and occasionally noodling orthodoxy that defined the 90s material of Dream Theater and a few other lesser known tag-alongs of said time period. The recurring title song/theme "The Shire" (which occurs in three parts at various points of the album) mirrors the smooth, serene, acoustic trappings of "Hollow Years" off of Falling Into Infinity, though the second incarnation of the theme goes a bit heavier and listens like a full length song rather than a prelude or passing interlude. It is this sort of catchy yet contemplative balladry that typifies a significant share of this album's contents.

This isn't to say that the majority of this album is caught in a woodland retreat, as this album does get fairly heavy and arguably manages to land in territory more suited to Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence or even Odyssey era Symphony X. Of particularly note is the chunky, grooving machine of a song "Snowblind", which hits the bottom end quite hard with a down-tuned riff set and an up tempo beat, though being on the longer end of the spectrum, also has a few lighter twists and turns, not to mention plenty of rock organ and spacey keyboard wizardry. On a similar note, the punchy opening full length song "Small Dark Lines" follows a very similar, though shorter formula and definitely throws in some fist-pumping to go along with the deep lyrical perspectives. Yet among the moderate length to longer numbers, the idea balance of heavy-handed impact and atmosphere is the ode to political cynicism "Trust The Process".

As noted earlier, though the exterior and general theme of this album leans a bit towards a back to nature message, this is a collection of songs that functions as an expansive version of past exploits by this band. Nowhere is this more apparent than the longest offerings to be found on here. The futuristic and multifaceted epic of a piano-driven semi-ballad "The Man Who Saw Through Time" contains the usual deep and perceptive lyrical quirks, but in qualitative terms, stands as one of the most brilliant mixtures of Pink Floyd, Rush and Dream Theater influence to have ever been conceived. "Lost In Translation" treads through similar territory, but with a bit more of a haunting atmosphere where a dissonant set of clean guitar drones indicative of a Queensryche influence replace the piano work, and things get a tad bit heavier. In both of these songs, however, the truly spellbinding element is how the dense keyboard backdrop, heavily harmonized vocals and rhythm section just meld together into an elaborate celebration of sound.

If there is a single word that could properly sum up the nature of this opus, it would be philosophical. There is plenty of skepticism towards the tangled web of modern politics and urbanization, as underscored in the closing afterthought "Swallowed", but it is an album that teaches more than preaches, which always makes for a better listening experience, particularly for the uninitiated passerby turned future follower. In keeping with this universal lyrical approach is a musical package that is fairly accessible by progressive standards. In essence, it is an album that is both excellent yet also stylistically conservative, largely relying upon familiar elements that were quite common during the 1990s heyday of the style. Longtime fans of this band will have zero difficulty in heralding this as worthy, if not the best of their output since Glynn Morgan had his original run with the band. The shires are calling, so let us all basque in that part of the world not touched by the coldness of "progress".

A Glynn-gend Reborn - 97%

Crossover, September 12th, 2017

Threshold remains the most consistent prog metal band perhaps of all time with this, their 11th standard full-length release. Anchored by the duo of Karl Groom and Richard West, this is their 5th album with the rhythm section of Steve Anderson and Johanne James, and the 2nd album featuring vocalist Glynn Morgan. Morgan hasn't donned the mic since Threshold's seminal 1994 release Psychedelicatessen after which he left and formed his own band Mind Feed. In my opinion his performance on that album was the best vocal performance in Threshold to date, despite my thoughts that overall Mac was the best vocalist the band had. The real question on everyone's mind for this release will inevitably be centered around Morgan's performance on this album; as Damian Wilson twice rejoined the band to great success following West and Groom's undeniable footprint.

Well Morgan delivered, not to my surprise, but anyone who might have had any doubts will very quickly erase them when even the first lines of this album are sung. Morgan is the most emotive voice of the 3. He is perhaps less powerful than Mac and less technical than Wilson, but from the first lines of The Shire Part 1 he exhibits his emotive yet brazen vocal styling. While Morgan's performance here isn't as electrifying as the more brutal delivery of Psychedelicatessen, it is more varied and matured. It is hard to think that Wilson had actually recorded vocals for this one and it will be interesting to see if Threshold release the accompanying tracks. Conversely it will be interesting to see if they re-record old Wilson and Mac tracks with Morgan at the mic, much like they did in the past.

The remainder of the album is literally business as usual for the rest of the band. They can be formulaic in their own equation and constantly remind the listener who they are listening to at times, but just never grow dull. This time they go for a lyrical theme a bit beyond the political and philosophical enlightenment that they typically provide instead opting for a concept album. The concept is par the course for the band; a lose conception about liberty, nations, and progress. They are essentially the same topics done in an incredibly tasteful storylike manner. As you listen the story deepens, and unlike many prog bands like Ayreon, the theme never seems derivative. It all flows and never becomes tirelessly cheesy.

Speaking of the "cheese", this band continues to master the saccharine pop melodies. West and Groom seamlessly meld Gaga-esque anthem pomp with modern power metal à la Nocturnal Rites in the first full track Small Dark Lines. Any other band outside of DTP might be hanged for such melodies, but the seamless integration Threshold put into it coerce listeners and critics to forcibly turn a blind eye to its "unmetalness". A few lyric lines might breech the line for some, but effectively Threshold walk the line with grace.

While the other album featuring Morgan's pipes featured many epic and bludgeoningly heavy passages, this one is softer and more subtle. There are only two bona fide epics here despite this one being a double disc. And unlike songs like Devotion and Intervention from Psychedelicatessen, songs on here such as Trust the Process hark back to the bands very first disc Wounded Land. The Man Who Saw through Time, which is the first of the two 10-plus minuters, is definitely something that could have been found on any of the Mac Era albums, with a significant noodling section that never becomes tiresome; though some of the riff progressions also reference the track The Hours from March of Progress. All the while, the guitar tone takes an emotive characteristic reminiscent of mid-era Mike Oldfield. There is a very English-nationalistic sound from the guitar melodies on a selection of the tracks, particularly the aforementioned one as well as the Shire series and the closer, the grace-laden Swallowed.

It is surprising on such a long release to really only find 3 more lengthier songs. While Trust the Process melds the old-school Threshold sound with the more-mid era instrumentalism, the other two 7-plus minuters are two of the single tracks off the album. Stars and Satellites melds some 80-s era English pop and perhaps late-80s/90s-era Rush with a modern metal sound while the first single Lost in Translation is an epic journey featuring some catchy melodies and a chilling climax with a few sections that hark back to the first album.

A unique feature of this album is the inclusion of former vocalist and bassist Jon Jeary on the final part of the Shire trilogy. It seems on this album that West and Groom seemed keen on bringing in elements of a variety of past elements into this one, perhaps encouraging their selection of Morgan to handle the vocal duties. Long-time Threshold fans will feel some goosebumps and glossy eyelids listening to this album.

One goosebump-inducing moment is the "title track" The Shire Part 2. This track starts disc 2 and perhaps serves as the middle climax of the album. It is an almost-folky anthem with not only infectious guitar lines but a chorus that you will be humming for weeks. The chorus is a well-intended, if cliché, mood-lifter. The track is textured and vibrant and I wouldn't be surprised to see the band pick it as the fourth single of the album. Morgan proves on this one why it was a great idea to bring him back into the fold and Groom's soaring guitars will put a little bit of happiness back into anyone's day, though as the song concludes it feels almost unsettled.

I think disc two succeeds in surpassing disc one in quality, but only slightly. The album doesn't seem top heavy nor skewed towards it's climax. The music flows exactly with the concept of the lyrics. At this point we are treated track after track to melodic prog gold. Picking a favorite off this album is quite hard. I love the pop-rock opera epic State of Independence and the impossibly catchy Superior Machines. Fuck it, Swallowed is up there, and the chic and heavy Snowblind. Critics and fans are almost becoming broken records when describing this band. They seemingly can do no wrong. If it isn't the sense of melody it is the inventive songwriting that engulf the listener; if it isn't the technical prowess it is the restraint these guys show as the antithesis of genre mates such as Dream Theater or Symphony X.

In fact, I don't really see any audience that wouldn't appreciate this album aside from the basement proggers and the kvlt-metallers. It is poppy yet heavy; visceral yet gentle; technically proficient yet restrained; riff-loaded yet never overbearing. West and Groom dance around all corners of the progressive metal spectrum always blending the right mixture of ingredients. Though I love Devin Townsend and would consider him the next in line, West and Groom prove time and again they are the gold standard of progressive and even all of metal songwriting. There is a very low chance of anything surpassing this as album of the year. There is something about a gold standard that only the weak minded can find fault in to take it down to their level. Just listen to and enjoy this piece of gold.