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Can we go on? (Clearly.) Can we be wrong? (No.) - 90%

naverhtrad, December 15th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, InsideOut Music

Subsurface is another favourite of mine. Even though the more recent March of Progress and For the Journey are both also strong contenders, it is likely the sleekest, smoothest and most-finessed album that Threshold have put out, with limpid spine-tingling guitar hooks, soaring panoramic soundscapes, masterful organ-synth work from West, a fine recalibration of Clone’s earwormish kinesis, and the encapsulation of a great deal of their previous experimentation into a single, clean, heavy, well-delivered package. It doesn’t really smash into you with Hypothetical’s force, but then, it doesn’t need to. The complex harmonies have been carefully-measured to saturate you; Mac’s choruses lure you in and submerge you. All they do reflects on you. Now do you feel the pressure? (Hint: you’d better.)

In fact, each of the songs is so well put-together that describing them and picking them apart seems something of a disservice. For a modest (but by no means the only) example, just listen to ‘Opium’. It’s got the entire Threshold Formula at work: the crunchy, doom-laden, organ-drenched riffing; the duelling guitar and keyboard solos; the tight vocal harmonics – often delivered with the selfsame nebulous distance they evoke; the upbeat, loping bridge; the clever lyrics that stick in your head hours afterward.

But the point is not any one of these elements: it’s the fact that ‘Opium’ strings them all together in progressions which make so much damn aural sense that you’re already drumming your foot and bobbing your head to the next section before you quite know you’re in it. Lost in the haze, so far away… How can you get back home? It’s Threshold doing what Threshold does best, and in many ways better than they’ve done before. If the band has proven anything over its long career, it’s that: you can’t fly twice in the same patch of sky – but you can come bloody close. And you can sound fresh and engaging each time.

It’s somewhat telling that this album never takes the time to slow down, and thus almost suffers from the opposite of Critical Mass’s problem. There’s so much Threshold has to say here, musically, and even if they never leave the listener behind, they still just keep moving straight on through it. Though ‘Flags and Footprints’ and the closer ‘The Destruction of Words’ each come close, there is no true ‘Keep My Head’ ballad on here – and that makes for a sleek, well-delivered package, and once you’re done listening to it, and ‘all that’s left is you’, you really do feel like you’ve reached the end of a long and scenic journey.

And now, onto the lyrical discussion. If Groom or West happen to stumble over this review at some point in the future, I hope they aren’t too badly offended by what I’m about to say here.

It strikes me that there’s something profoundly unfair about going back and listening to Subsurface now, to review it at the end of 2016. Indeed, I was drawn to give this album in particular a number of re-listens by current events both in Britain and here in America. And I find I’m tempted to attribute a premonitory, Cassandran-oracular wisdom to Threshold that they themselves (from the interviews they’ve done) would absolutely and strenuously disavow. This album was written in 2004, the height of the Bush-Blair years, and should probably be read in that context. It would be naïve in the extreme, of course, to think that politics and global affairs weren’t at the forefront of the keen minds of Rich West and Karl Groom when they were writing this album. But it’s surprisingly difficult now to listen to songs like ‘Ground Control’, ‘Flags and Footprints’ and especially ‘The Art of Reason’ in the wake of the EU referendum, and not think that Threshold had some kind of inkling of things to come, a finger on the pulse of the res publica. Many of the lyrical topics they touch on directly here – the suffocating and numbing effects of political correctness; the perfidy of self-serving élites and bureaucrats who ought to work for the public good but don’t; the sense of losing essential freedoms; the distrust between different strata of society; the contradictions and inequities of global capitalism – are somehow even more poignant now, given what we know about the attitudes and feelings that gave rise to Brexit. But if we look honestly at the world as it was then, the very same tensions were there, and the same dangers.

Can we go on? Can we be wrong?

As music that makes you think and reflect, Subsurface has certainly done its job. And as an album that one comes back to, doubly so. This is indeed a top-quality release that has stood the test of time, and easily earns its shelf-space keep for any prog fan.

18 / 20

We're Giving Up The Freedom To Be Free - 98%

Dragonchaser, September 29th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2004, CD, InsideOut Music

Back in 2004, Threshold released their biggest album to date, a hulking, crystalline opus known as “Subsurface”, and while “Hypothetical” put them on the map, this was the one that saw the band truly take flight. Everything up until this point had been a building block for what is arguably the band's master-work, and with a bigger production and more scope in song writing than they had before this, Threshold marched into the history books with one of the finest albums the progressive metal genre has ever known.

Now, if you're familiar with Threshold's unique sound during the Mac period, you will know what to expect here. Gigantic post-thrash riffs, neo-prog instrumental finesse, AOR-esque choruses, and politically aimed lyrics that snarl and bite. Threshold had never managed an album that overflowed with such intrinsic brilliance as this one did, and it upped the band's stock considerably in the melodic metal world. The material here sits closer to “Hypothetical” in tone rather than its melancholic follow up “Critical Mass”, but really, this is just Threshold using all the tools at their disposal to create a unified, artistic album that balances between short, snappy songs like “Pressure” and florid epics such as the lush “Art Of Reason”. The artwork is a good indicator of the sounds at play here; there is something of an airy, lake-side feel to the album that breathes life into “Static”, “The Destruction Of Words”, and other laid-back numbers that might have otherwise seemed contrite or even boring.

But Threshold have always been about the songs, and they don't let atmospherics get in the way of wowing their audience with killer cuts like the tumbling “Ground Control” and “Stop Dead”, one of the oddest tunes the band would record, utilizing a zippy pop melody that launches feet-first into one of Threshold's very best vocal lines. The album is pretty much defined for me by its two humongous epics, those being “The Art Of Reason” and opener “Mission Profile”. The aforementioned is one of Richard West's best takes on social commentary, while the latter takes off at full speed, careening in every direction, overlaid with Mac's wondrous vocals and vivid backing choirs. You're looking at the greatest Threshold song of all time here, and possibly my favourite album opener, too. It sets the bar high and the album can't quite make it back up to the same heights by the time it has run its course, instead opting to take you on a journey through sublime landscapes tempered by inventive, soothing lead work and celestial keys.

Mac's vocals were on top form here, and I'd certainly say this is the best work he did with the band (though it takes nothing away from its commercial follow up, “Dead Reckoning”, Mac's swansong), and even now, with the return of Damien Wilson, Threshold haven't quite managed to top “Subsurface”. This is smart, involving, highly-compositional metal for connoisseurs of the style, and stands not only as Threshold's crowning achievement, but also as one of prog-metal's truly essential albums. Claim it at any cost.