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From the ashes of awe and wonder - 95%

naverhtrad, December 16th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2012, CD, Nuclear Blast (Digipak)

March of Progress is another one of the high points of Threshold’s career, but it is a triumph which was attained at a high cost. Just after Dead Reckoning was released, Mac suddenly left the band – and then, in 2011, the heartbreaking news came that Mac had died of kidney failure. Given the long radio silence between Reckoning and March, clearly both events threw Threshold for a loop, but March of Progress showed definitively that they were able to power through and come back swinging.

Damian Wilson reappears, smooth vibrato tenor intact as though he had never left, as the permanent vocalist on this album. But March doesn’t actually throw back to his frillier ‘90’s work on Wounded Land and Extinct Instinct. Stylistically, it is up-to-date. It charts a careful middle passage between the rangy, power-metallic stylings of Reckoning and the progressive spit-shine polish of Subsurface. At this point, the Formula is down to a well-practised art form and not really in need of much adjustment, but Groom and West are far from resting on their laurels – both musically and lyrically, it’s clear that they still have a great deal to say, and are insistent on saying it all with as much class and conviction as they can bring to bear.

Thematically, March provides us with a broad and colourful range of emotion, both playing to Damian’s strengths as a singer, and expressing grief over the loss of Mac. The theme of perseverance and persistence, at the ragged edges of personal will and in the face of adversity, rears its head with dogged regularity: ‘Staring at the Sun’, ‘The Hours’, ‘Don’t Look Down’ and the pounding, doomy-as-fuck ‘The Rubicon’. In some cases, the constant upbeat exhortations to stand firm in the face of life’s troubles can wear – ‘Don’t Look Down’ in particular approaches flower-metal territory with its happy-freak vibe and poppy chorus.

But all of this alternates with, and is thrown into sharp relief by, some of the most despairing and melancholy work Threshold has done to date: the lonely meandering echoes and bleak imagery of ‘Colophon’, but also the out-and-out tear-jerking ‘That’s Why We Came’. The latter is a particularly poignant example, punctuated by soul-searing wails. ‘You’ve witnessed the pain that cannot be explained – as landscapes erase, we’re leading the way…’ The band clearly put their all into writing this album – their disillusionment as well as their determination. And so they carry on…

This is all interspersed with the same kind of penetrating, prophetic warnings of the perils of political correctness and thought-policing, dismay at smug political complacency, doubts about the global technocratic experiment, and keen observations about the self-defeating tensions in modern consumer society, that marked Subsurface ten years before. ‘Sliding away, from plenty to dependency we fall; subsiding again, collapsing from the burden of it all – but we think we’re on a march of progress!’ They note all this, even in the grand view, without being preachy or condescending. It’s still clear where they stand, though – even though they see some dangers coming out of their own tribe and focus with great clarity on those, they still understand full well that ‘we fall when we surrender to the corporation view’, and that ‘our faith can only offer what we faithfully pursue’.

If everything I’ve just described here sounds like too much heavy lifting for one single album to do, that’s because it is. March of Progress is nothing if not ambitious, even for a band as capable and as wide-reaching as Threshold. (Notably, it’s also their longest full-length release yet, clocking in at 69 minutes!) It’s imaginable how an album like this could have fallen apart into an incoherent and frustrating mess. But it didn’t.

In the end, Threshold not only didn’t collapse. The pressure merely added lustre to their alchemy, and a diamond emerged from the ashes.

19 / 20

Penny for the dreams you thought you'd lost. - 98%

Andromeda_Unchained, September 3rd, 2012

At long last, they’re back! It’s been a long five years since the stupendous Dead Reckoning and with the departure Andrew "Mac" McDermott (who sadly passed away last year) I was deeply worried about the future of Threshold. A while after Mac left the band I noticed that both Damian Wilson and Glynn Morgan were offering to perform live with the guys, this in turn instilled hope, as for my money both of those singers are ace. Ultimately Damian Wilson rejoined the band, and the waiting game began. Now I’m sitting here listening to March of Progress for the twelfth time, and straight off the bat I’m going to say this is incredible, and likely the album of the year.

Album number nine for Threshold; March of Progress is an all encompassing effort, blending the atmosphere and edge of the band’s earlier albums - particularly the use of massive arrangements with the commercial gloss and almost AOR accessibility of the Mac era. March of Progress is a colossal album at over an hour in length, and coupling the longer tracks with the subject matter as well as the thought provoking lyrics results in the album becoming quite a lot to digest. However Threshold have always been an act worthy of investing a good amount of time and concentration in - particularly their early releases with Damian and Glynn – and although it rings common across their entire discography; it has never rang out more true than it does on here. March of Progress is an album that requires your attention, nay, I’d say demands your attention and I can assure you the more time you invest, the greater the bearing fruits become.

As I’ve stated the general sound here is an amalgamation of everything Threshold have done. A majestic, grandiose effort that pours out the speakers flooding and drenching the room thanks to a vibrant, crystalline mix. The band’s brand of Testament meets earlier Genesis has never resonated better. Damian Wilson sounds the best he’s ever sounded, age has done nothing but favours for Damian; I’ve watched him jump from strength to strength over the years and I think it’s about time he received unanimous praise. Not only does Damian Wilson sound great, but as Threshold have grown as a band so has the way they write their vocal melodies (perfected over the Mac days in fairness). This means Damian is singing some of the best vocal lines I’ve heard all year, and coupled with the band’s highly professional and massively enjoyable style of backing vocals (which I would say unique to the band) Threshold have every ground covered regarding vocals. Take a look at the sublime opener “Ashes” or the majesty of “Colophon” for proof.

Now I’ve harped on about the vocals long enough, I think it’s about time we got to the music. As I’ve kept stressing throughout, elements of everything the band has ever done can be heard on March of Progress. I’d say the whole album has a slight air of “Pilot in the Sky of Dreams” about it, and the band shift dynamics right the way through the record. From atmospheric, almost Floydian progressive back drops, to some of the band’s very heaviest, post-Thrash Metal riffage. I tend to refrain myself from describing music as epic unless really necessary, and this is one of those cases where it is. March of Progress is so bloody epic! An absolutely towering release that is 100% on the ball throughout, and if the material always hits at 100% then the band are giving it at least 110% tilt. Particularly mainstays Karl Groom and Richard West, the former of which has laid down some of the finest riffs he’s ever wrote as well as some of his most awe-inspiring leads; the latter of which proving his skill as a musician on every level, with excellent piano style pieces, flawless electronic backdrops and some technically tasty leads.

It wouldn’t be fair to leave out the rest of the band, and the addition of former Power Quest axe-slinger Pete Morton on rhythm guitars really helps round out the guitar sound giving a good deal of crunch. The rhythm section of Johanne James and Steve Anderson is tighter than a Chinese finger trap, with Johanne’s tasteful stick work demanding of your sole attention, and Steve’s bass having a perfect spot in the mix, always relevant and anchoring everything perfectly. I’m going to name a few standout tracks here, but I will stress that the album works best listened to in one go for the experience, and I will also say that just about every track is ultimately a standout. Special attention has to go to “Don’t Look Down” which is up there with the best songs the band have ever wrote, and I believe it could stand as the flagship song for Threshold; superb vocals, stupendous musicianship that is heavy and never overtly indulgent, subtle dynamic shifts – yeah, that’s what Threshold is all about! Also “The Rubicon” which is the longest track here, and closes the album. The song has a very dark vibe, especially when it busts into an absolutely punishing dirge towards the end, closing the album on a phenomenal note. (Also there’s a backing vocal towards the end of this song stating “A penny for the one you thought you need” which I feel really ties it in with last album).

I’ve gone on quite a bit, and still probably haven’t done the album justice. To be honest I doubt anything is going to come out and match the quality displayed on March of Progress. Arguably the most complete Threshold album to date, if you care at all about Progressive Metal then I suggest you place a pre-order and prepare yourself for an incredibly stunning release. This is intelligent, thought provoking, and masterfully created. Threshold boasts depth in spades, and I can assure this is well worth your hard earned cash. March of Progress sees the band catapulted to the very top of their genre, and I hope the guys see a lot of success with this release as it is completely deserved. What more must I say? Album of the year? You betcha!

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