So, I hear many non-devotees wondering right now: “Wait, Spock’s Beard has a new album out?!?” That they indeed do. Like some of their compatriots (for example Marillion), they looked at their position in the current music biz scene and went straight to their fans asking for willing pre-orders that would fund the recording of said new album. After participation from nearly 40 countries (myself included), they finally released their appropriately titled tenth studio album, X, last may and I may proclaim that it is full of manna for prog fans everywhere.
The band’s history is naturally divided in the minds of many to the time before and after the departure of former front man Neal Morse. Since that occurrence and the following triad of records (Feel Euphoria, Octane and Spock’s Beard), my view of the band’s direction has been one of harder rocking. While remaining melodic and embracing the traditional grandiose qualities of prog rock, overall I’ve felt that felt that the albums have taken a more straightforward approach with elements like slightly harder riffing and less complex song structures (at least by the standards set by their history). I have to admit that this has left me feeling a bit less fulfilled than with their masterpieces like The Light, The Kindness Of Strangers, V and Day For Night. Which is why I’m overjoyed to write that the epicness is back, baby! Yes, their recent albums have had the magnificence of pieces like As Far As The Mind Can See, but on X the feel is there throughout the whole album.
The album is anchored in the beginning, middle and end by three mammoths all containing tender melodies, rough grooving and head-shaking tempo trickery that is sure to set air instruments blazing around the world. Edge Of The In-Between (clocking in at 10:28), From The Darkness (16:52) and Jaws Of Heaven (16:21), which go through the light-to-shade emotion in spectacular fashion, going all the way into dare I say cinematic vibes with the added strings on the latter. Those yearning for the days of The Light, The Good Don’t Last or At The End Of The Day should be beyond pleased.
That’s not to say the remaining tunes pale for the most part. The shortest offering, the slightly under four-minute Kamikaze is a damn good instrumental with the kind of riffage on both guitar and keyboards that should get hairpieces spinning en masse. The Man Behind The Curtain rocks away with a fist-raising intensity, still showing that the band’s newer stylings can produce greatness. The Emperor’s Clothes is a really quirky one that mixes lush Beatles-style melodies with very rhythmic vocal lines that I guess the harshest of puritans could go and consider rapping, but fear not for it fits the oddity of the tune – and there are no turntable-scratches or chug-chug-riffs within miles, so quench those torches. Their Names Escape Me is a really fun tune with an ominous middle eastern flavour throughout that also is an exclusive added track for this limited edition sold through the band’s website. The specialness is increased by the addition of everyone’s name who pre-ordered the album’s hypermegaVIPshenanigans -version (or something like that) into the lyrics of the song. Yes, there is a big list of names at the end but it’s actually really cool because it's sung in very distinct melody lines of its own and the theme of the lyrics calls for such a list. All these names are also listed in the booklet as “excecutive producers” of the record. An oddity for sure but in my eyes a really cool offer made for the biggest fans. And no, my name is not there, didn’t make it quickly enough to place the order. The one tune that hasn’t sold me thus far is The Quiet House, which mixes some brooding rocking with melancholic moments that just don’t hit that chord in me. Not a bad piece at all but among the vastly better ones around it, it just doesn’t compare.
The performance of the band is stellar as usual and special props go to the
harmonizing vocal work of the group. It’s almost criminal that even after
losing a vocalist the caliber of Neal Morse, there’s still someone just
as awesome in Nick D'Virgilio to front the backing layers of ear-caressing voices.
X is without a doubt the band’s best record with this line-up
and can be easily added into the upper echelon of their works overall. I’ve
heard that Mascot Records has just recently taken to distribute the album so
hopefully it’ll start popping up in local record stores as well. If you
can’t find it and dig your progressive rock filled with both floods of
catchy melodies and finger-frustrating musicianship, go to Spock’s
Beard website and order X. One of my year’s top records
Killing Songs :
Edge of the In-Between, Kamikaze, From The Darkness, Their Name Escapes Me, The Man Behind The Curtain & Jaws of Heaven
|Aleksie quoted 90 / 100|
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