Intro: Dimitris Kaltsas
Translation: Alexandros Mantas
On November 12th, the legendary Threshold will play live at Kyttaro Club, Greece and this show is not likely to go unnoticed or get lost in the shuffle of the upcoming events.
Threshold are a unique case of a British prog metal band with a dazzlingly consistent and of balanced quality catalogue since 1993. Their double album Legends of the Shires (our reviews here) that was released this year impressed us with the fresh air of renewal that the old acquaintance Glynn Morgan brought with him. Therefore, we have every reason to be straining at the leash to see them in the flesh.
We took a trip down memory lane. Seven editors pick an album out of the band’s catalogue and give the reasons of its historical and musical value on a personal level and not only.
[Giant Electric Pea, 1993]
In a completely inhospitable space-time for that kind of music (G. Britain, 1993 when Brit pop was ruling the airwaves), Threshold released their first album entitled Wounded Land. It is an extraordinary record, based mainly on the British neo-prog as it was developed and popularized by groups like Marillion, I.Q, Galahad, Pallas and Pendragon, with the telltale keyboards heavily present throughout the compositions.
Yet, what differentiates Threshold from the aforementioned groups are not only the American progressive metal influences (Fates Warning of No Exit and Perfect Symmetry era), but also the American metal and the 80s hard rock ones. In Wounded Land the heavy moments coexist with sentimental outbreaks and also a touch of pyrotechnics. Special mention should be made of the sublime singing of Damian Wilson, as well as of Richard West’s keyboard parts.
All of the above takes place in a context of lyrics that deals with sociopolitical issues (ecology, consuming, drugs, wars). Threshold pulled off to blend ideally the technical US metal / progressive with British neo-prog in a now historical debut.
[Giant Electric Pea, 1994]
It is unlikely to find somebody who doesn’t hold Psychedelicatessen as a landmark album in the history of progressive metal. Undoubtedly, this is the moment when the United Kingdom makes its move in the barrage of the progressive metal inspiration that takes place on the other side of the pond. Psychedelicatessen is an album-totem.
Threshold will never play ever again so hard and in-your-face and the “blame” is apportioned between the heavy Harradence and the weird Morgan. The latter pulls off to depict lyrically on a first-person level a context of lyrics that balances between rage against the social heterodefinition and the occasional saccharine hope for a borrowed sense of purpose.
In spite of the addition of three new members the band is in the pocket. The way that the keyboards interplay with the guitars is one of the strengths of the album. The first lend an unvarnished adornment to the central themes of the latter. The structure of the songs is quite conventional; everything boils down to the basics: “first theme, variation, second theme, variation, bridge, variation, solo, then recap or invent something new”. Their style, even though is deprived of innovation and intense personal sound, is an aesthetic eclecticism that draws on Metallica, Black Sabbath, Queensrÿche and Dream Theater. Sunseeker, Innocent and Devoted are the top moments here with the breath of Into the Light and Babylon Rising hot on their neck.
[Giant Electric Pea, 1997]
Extinct Instinct is the third studio album by the British progressive metal band Threshold, released in 1997. It is the first album to feature drummer Mark Heaney and also Damian Wilson came back to the band after a four-year absence. These personnel changes introduced some changes in the songwriting process too, which is more experimental in comparison with Psychedelicatessen. The overall sound is very proggy and heavy at the same time. The lyrics are always thoughtful. Wilson’s wide vocal range gives plenty of memorable moments on this record. Groom’s guitar tone is stunning, especially in Eat the Unicorn which is probably the highlight here and it’s one of the finest pieces they have ever done. The band members showcase perfectly their individual musical skills in songs like Somatography, Part of the Chaos and The Whispering. The musical quality, the beautiful melodies and the strong musicianship are all over this album and I never comprehended why so many fans do not like Extinct Instinct since it is a really amazing record, of equal greatness with their previous ones and one of the many prog metal gems in Threshold discography.
[Giant Electric Pea, 1998]
Once more, the singer in Clone is a different one since Damian Wilson parted ways with the band once again, this time to be replaced by the late Andrew “Mac” McDermott.
The band has its ear on the ground and is well aware of the technological advances on these days. Therefore the subject matter of the album revolves around the genetics and the potential threats for mankind. Based on the nightmarish perspective of the future of this world that was looming large, the band put together a concept album which is one of their heaviest and foreshadowed their future style.
Right from the opener Freaks we figure out that the album relies heavily on the tremendous guitar work and on the crucial role of the keyboardist Richard West. Andrew “Mac” McDermott is different compared to his predecessor, imparting a plasticity to the compositions, most notably on quieter songs like Change, adding, in general, to the album a more melodic tone.
The album is primarily structured on well-crafted riffs and the key-role of the keyboards. Songs like the Queensrÿche-ish The Latent Gene and Goodbye Μother Earth, are pretty much digestible in spite of their long durations. Even though Clone places emphasis on the heavy element, there is also a melodic side in it and strikes undoubtedly a balance between technique and wonderful songs. For a very good reason, it ranks among their best stuff.
This album is one of my favourites of their catalogue, an album that came out when the band was in top form. Aside the standard dazzling solos and riffs of Groom / Midson, the always impeccable keyboard parts of West (they touched perfection here) and the bedrock provided by the drummer Johanne James and the inductee Steve Anderson who formed a remarkable rhythm section, Andrew “Mac” McDermott is on the top of his game. His outstanding voice gives the already wonderful songs a cutting edge, like The Art of Reason, Ground Control and the fan-favourite Mission Profile. Sonically, the album is along the usual lines, namely hovers at the point where the heavy and guitar-based metal (frill-free and deprived of unnecessary shows of technique) and neo-prog, to which they pay homage, intersect. Catchy compositions (see Pressure, Flags and Footprints), strong choruses, interesting changes, flawless technique, meaty and well-written lyrics and finally the stellar production of Groom and West, all these things add up to one of the most noteworthy albums they have ever done.
[Nuclear Blast, 2007]
Even though there is seemingly nothing new to Dead Reckoning that sets it apart from its predecessors, patience is the key to figure out the elements that render this album memorable. It is their first record since the departure of the founding member and guitarist Nick Midson and the last one with Andrew “Mac” McDermott on the microphone who passed away four years later. The performance of “Mac” is truly astonishing, with Pilot in the Sky of Dreams as the highlight. If you are pressed for time and you can listen only to one song from every album of this feature, without a second thought this one encompasses every single element which may convert you to their music: melodious lines that will be etched on your mind, nice solos (guitar or keyboard ones), sharp riffs and strong rhythm section. Granted, Dead Reckoning has its weaknesses, namely slight overshots when it comes to sweeter parts, but all in all there are plenty of tunes in here that justify our fondness for this band.
March οf Progress
Five solid years after Dead Reckoning and one year after the untimely death of their ex-singer, Threshold released March of Progress with Damian Wilson back to the fold (since 2007). Even though at that point of time the future didn’t look quite bright for the band, seemingly at least, the final result took even the most optimistic by storm. The first hint was the magnificent prog hit Staring at the Sun and the rest of the album is not far behind, either. Ashes is to date a must in the set-list, while Liberty, Complacency, Dependency, Don’t Look Down and the epic The Rubicon rank among the best compositions of the duo Groom / West. Colophon is maybe the proggiest metal composition of West (and, undoubtedly, one more highlight) while Morten’s contribution with Coda is crucial. All the elements balance ideally here, the solos are inspired, melodious and fiery and the return of Wilson was clearly invigorating for the band.
In a truly consistent course where mediocrity is absent, I think that March Of Progress is their best album, along with (and perhaps a trifle better than) Psychedelicatessen and it is probably the one which is, in a way, the epitome of their career as a whole.