Issue 2012-047: Threshold - March of Progress - Round Table Review
Threshold - March Of Progress
Tracklist: Ashes (6:51), Return Of The Thought Police (6:09), Staring At The Sun (4:25), Liberty Complacency Dependency (7:48), Colophon (6:00), The Hours (8:15), That's Why We Came (5:40), Don't Look Down (8:12), Coda (5:23), Rubicon (10:24) Bonus track on the limited edition: Divinity (6:27)
Tom De Val's Review
Although this is Threshold's first new studio release since 2007's Dead Reckoning, it doesn't really feel like five years have passed since then. Perhaps that's because the band have still been quite visible; following previous vocalist Andrew 'Mac' McDermott suddenly leaving the band in 2007 on the eve of a tour, Threshold's on-again-off-again singer from the earlier years, Damien Wilson, stepped into the breach to help them out. Unlike previous times, this time Wilson stuck around, and it can't be denied that he has brought an energy and enthusiasm to Threshold's live performance that had perhaps been lacking in recent times. In addition to numerous live shows, there has also been the career-spanning box set, Paradox: The Singles Collection, in 2010, but there's no doubt that it is new studio music that the fans have been waiting for.
It's perhaps not surprising that March Of Progress is less a continuation of the smoother, easy-on-the-ear sound of Dead Reckoning and more a return to the darker, more progressive music found on 1997's Extinct Instinct, the last album until now to feature Wilson on vocals. That's not to say that the evolution the band have gone through over the last fifteen years has been ignored however. In fact, hook-filled opener Ashes is probably closer to the material on Mac-era releases such as Hypothetical; although lengthy and chock-full of solos, at the song's core are some very catchy melodies and a strong chorus. It's also one of the few 'instant' songs on the album; I was grinning from ear to ear within a few bars, knowing that Threshold were definitely back.
The next track Return Of The Thought Police, is perhaps more typical of the album; slower paced, with dark riffs and a menacing undertone. Wilson gets to show the extent of his vocal prowess on this one. Time has been kind to his voice; he has retained the power and range he always had, but there's an added warmth and emotional resonance compared to his earlier work with Threshold. Staring At The Sun, despite its quirky opening, settles in to more of a power ballad structure. The chorus is undeniably strong, although I think keyboardist Richard West, who wrote the song, should have stuck to his original idea (as per the liner notes) of opening the song out a little, as it feels rather truncated and bolted together in its present form.
Liberty, Complacency, Dependency is a solid Threshold epic, drawing on the band's more distant past yet updating it to sound fresh and in keeping with the feel of the album. I particularly like the stately opening, with Wilson in particularly commanding voice, whilst the integration of speedier sections is done with typical skill. Colophon is one of those songs that takes a long time to sink in, and even now I find it a little hard to get a handle on. It does however have a very different feel to the 'usual' Threshold sound, and the bad should be applauded for taking risks at this stage of their career.
The next song, The Hours, is a co-write between West and bassist Steve Anderson, and is for me one of the album's highlights. Building from a simple piano riff, there's a highly dramatic, charged feel to the song, even during the early, relatively restrained verses. The chorus explodes in to life, whilst the more progressive middle section packs in superb harmonies and some strongly bombastic playing. The quality is maintained by the Wilson-penned That's Why We Came, which slows things down a little and has a heartfelt and emotional vocal performance from Wilson.
Don't Look Down picks up the pace and has an upbeat feel that reflects the positive nature of the lyrics. Second guitarist Pete Morten contributes his first song to the band with Coda, a powerful, strident song with some squealing leads and an effective stop-start construction. The lyrics touch on the sad passing of Mac last year.
As with many of the band's albums, March Of Progress ends with an epic, and it's a good one; The Rubicon has a symphonic sweep and real power once the guitars cut in for the bridge, leading in to an anthemic chorus. The song moves effortlessly through its various sections, and the bombastic closing section is heralded by a pipe organ, always a good choice for a prog album in my book! (I should mention that those who buy the 'special edition' get a bonus track, the Morten-penned Divinity; although not my favourite on the album, this is still a strong piece and might as well just be part of the main album, as the quality control is certainly maintained.)
The production is as strong as you'd expect from a Threshold disc, and hearteningly sees the rather overly glossy feel of Dead Reckoning peeled back a little, allowing a heavier edge to cut through. Wilson is in great voice throughout, and all the musicians perform to the usual high calibre. The fact that the songwriting is shared more widely brings more variety to proceedings than has been the case in the last few albums. Whilst not as immediate or perhaps as strong a collection of songs as my own personal favourites, Clone and Hypothetical, this certainly ranks as another quality album by the band that has been on heavy rotation since I got it. I'm looking forward to some live shows, but hopefully the tour won't go on too long or we might have another five year wait for the follow-up!
Basil Francis' Review
Recently, I decided to head to ProgArchives.com to see what were the hottest albums of the year. March Of Progress came in at #2, and I consequently decided to give it a try. I'd never heard of Threshold before, nor did I know that this was their ninth studio album, or that their previous singer Andrew McDermott died last year of kidney failure, a tragedy for fans I'm sure. I learned even later that this happened after 'Mac' had left the band, and that for the last five years, the band have been touring with their original singer Damian Wilson. Despite ProgArchives high acclaim, I soon found I had been wrong to trust our rival website.
It took me approximately 90 seconds to realise I wasn't going to like this album. Progressive metal has become a very monotonous genre indeed, with Dream Theater/Symphony X clones running amok without really adding anything new or interesting to the table. In this world, technical skill is the minimum requirement; what's lacking is proper emotion. The exception to the rule was Haken, whose album Aquarius really makes me believe that there could be another chance for prog metal to redeem itself. However, no such thing could be said about March Of Progress.
Each song on this album is so stale that I can hardly stand to listen to it in full. This is especially a problem when the average song length is about seven minutes. Boring verses and lacklustre choruses give way to uninspiring solo segments in a constant cycle of mediocrity. Wilson may be able to hold a note, but his voice gets rather tiresome after a few tracks. Moreover, the songs are so utterly predictable that you've pretty much worked out how it's going to go after the first chorus. What we end up with is pretty weak metal, and a lack of anything truly progressive apart from the deceptively long track lengths.
Don't think for a minute that I dislike prog metal. Without Dream Theater, I may have never begun listening to prog in the first place! Sadly, however, there's a propensity for bands to simply label themselves prog metal without truly understanding what it means to be progressive. It's bands like Soniq Circus and Threshold that make me wash my hands of the genre, although bands like Haken do have a way of luring me back. If you're mindlessly in love with the so-called 'progressive metal sound' then this album may do something for you, but since there's nothing you can't hear anywhere else, I'd advise you to stay away. Progressive metal band? More like progressive metal bland!
Dries Dokter's Review
I am not quite sure how my interest in Threshold started. I think it is because of a review here on DPRP for the Hypothetical album. It might also be that one of my friends had a Threshold album that sparked my interest. Anyway, it is at least over 10 years ago and my appreciation has only grown since then. Seeing them live a couple of times sure helped and getting back together with Damian Wilson made me even more happy. I am not saying this because I don't like Mac's voice, in fact, I very very much liked his style of singing, Pilot In The Sky of Dreams from the previous Threshold album, Dead Reckoning, is one of my favourite tracks of all-time, not in the least because of his voice. So even though he had already left Threshold at the time, It saddened me to hear he passed away.
The fact that Karl Groom, of Pendragon, Shadowland and Strangers on a Train fame, is one of the founding members of Threshold is certainly a great recommendation too!
For the people that know me it is not a secret that I am a big Damian Wilson fan, most of all because of his solo work, but also because of his cooperations with Arjen Lucassen. So when Threshold started touring with Damian Wilson a couple of years ago, I did miss Mac's voice but very much welcomed Damian. (And no, I will not be comparing the two, no point in that - both are great, but different).
So needless to say that I was very curious about the new Threshold album. An album on which Damian Wilson returns as the vocalist. Interesting times because around the same time this prolific singer releases an album with Headspace and Maiden United.
But this review is about March Of Progress and that most certainly is not an Damian WIlson solo album. It is a real Threshold album (involving all 6 members of the band) with all the features of a Threshold album. But from the first spin of this album I have been a bit ambivalent in my opinion: on the one hand I welcome the riffs, the compositions as genuine Threshold, original and pleasing to the Prog-metal listener. On the other hand it all seemed a bit too easy and simple...
The first tones of Ashes are energetic, up tempo and catchy. I liked the track immediately, but that is also what made me a bit scared: it is my experience that an album that I like immediately is also an album that might not last long... Then again Threshold rhythm section is STUNNING, how can I ever get bored by the drums and bass guitar? And then put some great lead guitar on top of that... Together with one of the best voices in the world... The same atmosphere and ideas are put into Return Of The Thought Police, although it's build up is a bit more diverse creating more tension. This is even more true for Staring At The Sun, one of my favourite tracks of the album, not in the least because of the guitar solos.
Then a track like The Hours serves as the best illustration of why I have been so ambivalent about this album: it is catchy, it is technically well played, but also just a bit too easy... Not a bad track, there is not a bad track on this album, but just not of the same quality as Pilot In The Sky of Dreams or Hypothetical's Ravages Of Time.
Coda however is a track that does compare to those two, more than a couple of things are happening in this track - wonderful composition, wonderful lyrics (in part dedicated to Mac). The Rubicon and Divinity, same story, same high standard of composition, brilliantly played and sung...
As for being bored, I have had plenty of time to listen to this album again and again. And today I still like it in the same way I did the first time that I heard it... So it turned out to be one of those that I instantly liked and still do.
In the end, my opinion is clear, I like this album. Maybe 1 or 2 lesser tracks are on it but all the others more than make up for that especially so if you take into account the great lyrics.
It might not surprise existing Threshold fans, or become the next big thing in Prog-metal, but it will please people that like Prog-metal, especially Prog-metal that emphasises the melodic, instead of loud and brutal...
Threshold again deliver a solid album, one I will keep playing in the future.