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Groundbreaking - 85%

naverhtrad, December 13th, 2016

Even within the notably idiosyncratic subgenre of ‘progressive metal’, Threshold is something of an outlier. That’s a cliché, I know. But if there’s any band for which it absolutely holds true, Threshold is it.

One can say, justly, that Threshold offers straight-up good rock music with a soulful and thoughtful side, but this description really only scratches the surface. If you ask why this is the case, though, I’d say it’s partly because Threshold has kept its knack for experimentation within certain hard limits. Threshold has always had a certain mad-genius alchemical formula – meshing melodic vocals, tight instrumental harmony and keyboard-reliant classic-rock progressions with crunchy, thrashy riffs, a style that’s been not unfairly described as ‘Metallica-meets-Yes’ – that works, damn it. And they know perfectly well it works. They’ve stuck to that formula with a commendable conviction down the years, such that they have never put out a bad album (and that’s not something many bands with a ten-album and twenty-five-year-long history can boast). For proof of this consistency, their first album, Wounded Land, certainly isn’t a bad place to start exploring.

Wounded Land offers, in fact, a good sample of Threshold’s remarkable range and depth with regard to their influences, and the mastery with which they domesticate their clearly Bay Area-esque rhythm guitarwork and plug it directly and seamlessly into the Formula. To give one example: the labyrinthine (but still catchy) Middle Eastern-themed riffing on ‘Days of Dearth’ contrasts markedly with the psychedelic ethereal jazzy spiraling hooks which open ‘Sanity’s End’. But even that contrast doesn’t really jar the listener. Nor does the odd time signature of the latter distract from the album’s flow – even though, from there, ‘Paradox’ plunges us into a straight-up 4/4 rock number with a retro ‘80’s vibe complete with showy guitar solo. The structure within which the dynamic trio of Groom, West and Wilson leap (or, one could say, ‘progress’) from one inspiration to the next is consistent and solid throughout. Add to this Damian Wilson’s unmistakeable, emotionally-versatile high tenor punctuating the band’s already-expressive and -expansive melodies, and you’ve got a trendsetter on your hands.

There is also a strong lyrical consistency that helps the album all hang together. I’m not sure whether or not Wounded Land rightly counts as a ‘concept album’, but it’s blindingly obvious that Groom, Midson and Jeary had something on their minds as they wrote each of these songs. In marked contrast to the more introspective and philosophical meditations on social psychology, the inner workings of history, the precarious nature of political freedom that grace their later albums, on this one there is a strong and insistent left-wing political message that runs throughout.

And even though the lyrical compositions are still as clever as one would be given to expect from their later work, that message is delivered with all the finesse and subtlety of a wrecking ball – or a crossover thrash band from eight years prior. Rampant consumerism and industrial pollution are destroying the planet’s ecosphere and natural resources. Capitalism is exploiting workers and driving them into poverty. They are being controlled with drugs and escapist fantasies, and being sent to die in needless wars. And, if you haven’t already guessed, it’s not going to end well. (Though it should be said that the album ends on a somewhat more hopeful, if existential, note with ‘Keep It with Mine’. If you walk around with both your eyes open, don't let them know your heart is broken…)

In short, Wounded Land is… well, straight-up solid rock music with a soulful and thoughtful side. But it’s also much more. It’s not their best work – still a bit rough around the edges, with certain anachronisms and frills that would later get smoothed away – but it breaks the ground, charts the territory and marks the beginning of a journey for one of the (to my mind, anyway) great and highly-underrated British progressive rock bands.

17 / 20

Consume To Live - 82%

Dragonchaser, September 1st, 2014
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Giant Electric Pea

People overlook Threshold when it comes to the world of prog metal, but fans of the genre should invest time in their body of works, as it is one of the richest the scene has to offer. After a couple of demos, the Brits unleashed their 1993 debut “Wounded Land”, presenting their proto-thrash meets neo-prog for the first time in a professional setting. This is their most 80s sounding release, with strong reverb on the drums, antiquated synth patches, and a caustic guitar tone, but rather than working as a detriment, it serves the album well, separating it from their later, more refined works.

In essence, this is still a typical Threshold album in that the band's identity remains intact, with social and environmental lyrics falling over heavy, grinding riffs, tasteful keyboards, and smart, well-composed vocal melodies. The songs here are long, and are played at typical mid-pace, and while some might find this off-putting, you forget that Threshold tend to go all doom on us, making songs like the creepy “Days Of Dearth” more rewarding after numerous listens. The tracks that hit hardest first time out include opener “Consume To Live”, with its dirty opening riff straight out of Testament's “The New Order”, and live favourite “Paradox”, which contains the album's sharpest vocal lines.

Elsewhere, we have the somewhat subdued “Surface To Air”, which is almost a blueprint of what the band would explore on “Critical Mass”, and the drug-fueled horror show that is “Sanity's End”, one of the band's most interesting tracks structurally. Some seem to have a problem with Damien Wilson's voice, but he sounds great here. Sure, his approach is more like Peter Gabriel after sniffing a line of coke than say, Geoff Tate, but his emotional wail and fragile vibrato adds a lot of charm to “Wounded Land”, helping Threshold to establish their stance as one of progressive metal's most interesting bands.

Those looking for Dream Theater-esque noodling won't find such things here. This is classy, sophisticated, mature metal for adults. At this point, the band sat closer to the US prog/power movement than they would later on, so if you're a fan of mid-period Fates Warning, Queensryche, Psychotic Waltz, and hell even Crimson Glory, you'll want to get hold of this. A solid starting point for Britain's best prog metal band.

Thankfully no hardcore prog metal, but SONGS! - 89%

Lane, July 4th, 2012

Do you ever get bored about the mention of Dream Theater when you're reading about some band playing prog metal? Yep, me too! I've read MANY reviews about Threshold albums, where their work has been compared and even said that this English band is aping Dream Theater's music. Anyways, Threshold are probably the most well-known English prog metal band, and there's a reason for it.

'Wounded Land' do not sound like Dream Theater. There you got it! Threshold were determined that the mixture of heavy metal and progressive rock would sound good, and guess what?! It does, even after all these years. Heavy riffing (remember, we're in prog metal world now), atmospheric elements, good synthesizer work and hard-hitting rhythm section is what 'Wounded Land' is about. Cream on the crop is Damian Wilson, the vocalist extraordinary, the prog version of Flotsam And Jetsam singer Eric A.K. (a huge thanks go to Arjen Lucassen who introduced Mr. Wilson on his Star One album in 2002, and because of that I got my first Threshold album, 'Critical Mass'. And while that album does not feature Damian, I was introduced to Threshold; that's how it works...).

Musically, 'Wounded Land' is pretty straight for a prog album. It's the diversified synth work, occasional tempo transformations and Damian's unique voice (soft, yet breaching and strong), that are the most prog particles of this album. Oh, plus some Mid-Eastern melodies, of course. Solos, both guitar and keyboard ones, are composed, not any fast Sonata Arctica style showing off how fast one can move fingers on fret-/keyboard. While 'Wounded Land' isn't anything too unique in style, there's slight insinuations towards more individual, Threshold's trademark delivery. Long songs, not that much variety in them, but overally, the music does flow well. But, with a couple of exceptions; On from 'Siege of Baghdad', the album loses its momentum, even though still remains listenable. 'Siege...' is overlong and semi-acoustic 'Keep It with Mine' is a nice ballad, but not much more, and definitely feels out of place on the album.

The Colin Lucas artwork is a fine piece, as is the rest of the booklet. Some of the lyrics are based on the book "The Wounded Land" by Stephen Donaldson, which reminds of Earth and how human has treated it to the brink of... Well, destruction? Other stories are about drugs and Iraqi war, so everything is still "the daily news". Sound-wise, everything is clear an nicely balanced, and surely pretty heavy and powerful for an album this old. Of course the sound is dated, but nothing bad.

One for prog metal and melodic metal fans, who like it heavy. Definitely one my favourite Threshold releases, easily. Probably because there's no instrumental porn. Well, at least not very hardcore stuff, anyways.

Taking a look at the 2001 reissue (the rating is for original release):

This reissue includes a bonus track called 'Intervention', which is taken from the album's original Japanese release. The song is okay, but not in the same league as the album's material, so it stinks of "bonus". Definitely pretty heavy song from the band, really.

Let's take a look into the enhanced element. It includes music. 'Conceal the Face' didn't make it on the album, it originally appeared on 'Cult of the Immortal' demo tape (1991) together with 'Paradox' (also appeared on the band's debut demo from 1989). 'Conceal...'s Mid-Eastern sounding riff is quite similar to Iron Maiden's famous song 'Powerslave'. A nice and pretty heavy song. Vocals are performed by Jon Jeary on these three demo tracks. His voice is pretty high-pitched, sounding more pop vocalist than a metal one. Sound on these demos is pretty good, especially for their age and the band's vision was very firm already in the early age. These are the highlight of the reissue, photos and a screen saver is just boring extra.

(originally written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com in 2007)