Thursday, 23 October 2014

Threshold's 'For the Journey' - Album Review

Progressive metal does not really seem to be a British thing, but Threshold have been making it theirs since releasing their debut album Wounded Land in 1993. Various members have come and gone over the years, but main songwriters guitarist and founding member Karl Groom and keyboardist Richard West have been producing finely crafted and polished progressive metal albums for two decades now. Last month saw the release of the band's tenth album For the Journey and fans of the band will know what to expect. The band's formula has rarely changed over the years and those who have enjoyed anything the band has had to offer in the past is sure to enjoy this album too. As usual, the songs are written from a melodic stand-point, focusing on big choruses, soaring lead guitar, and walls of lush keyboards. There is very little technical showboating in the band's sound, even in the longer pieces, and what is present is always there for the benefit of the song. The line-up on this album is the same that was featured on 2012's excellent March of Progress. Frontman Damian Wilson (performing on his fourth Threshold album in three stints with the band) really shines on this disc. He has one of the purest voices in metal today, and some of the work on this album probably ranks with the best vocal performances he has ever put to disc. The long-time rhythm section of bassist Steve Anderson and drummer Johanne James is as solid as ever; and the band's latest recruit, guitarist Pete Morten, once again proves his worth with an excellent songwriting contribution and an accomplished performance overall. During the build-up to the release of this album, I seem to remember reading something about this being the longest Threshold album to date, as it clocked in at around 70 minutes long; but this turned out to not be the case, as instead the album is a more reasonable 50 minutes in length. I for one am glad that this is the case. All to often these days albums are just too long for the sake of it, so I glad that some restraint was shown here. I would say that, overall, this album is slightly darker in tone than most of the band's previous work. The huge, uplifting melodies are still present here in spades, but the riffs and overall atmosphere seems a little bleaker than previously.

The album kicks of with Watchtower on the Moon which is a quintessential Threshold song. From the simple yet catchy opening guitar riff, the gothic washes of keyboards, and to Wilson's dramatic vocal delivery; this song is everything that every Threshold fan expects when popping in their new album. Stylistically, this is very similar to the formula used on Threshold albums since about 2004's Subsurface (although traces of this can be heard throughout their discography). Duelling keyboards and guitars dominate the latter part of the song, while crunching rhythms and James' clean drumming keep things moving along. Unforgiven follows and this is where the darker elements of the band's sound really shine. It is quite a drawn-out piece with a very pulsing verse with added keyboard sparkle for colour. Wilson almost howls the chorus, and injects plenty of emotion into his performance. He can come across as a bit melodramatic at times, but he always manages to sound genuine. This song's chorus is an excellent example of this, and a lesser vocalist might make this sound contrived. Up next is the  near 12 minute epic The Box which is a real progressive gem. It opens with delicate piano and acoustic guitar, but Wilson soon joins in and it is not long before the rest of the band kicks in and the song turns into a fully-fledged progressive metal piece. It moves through many movements in a short space of time. One moment we have flashy, shred-keyboards and the next moment the soundscapes return and Wilson's staccato vocal delivery along with similar drumming from James helps to create a real groove. The chorus, and overall feel of the song remind me of The Art of Reason from the Subsurface album which is no bad thing as that is an excellent song! Wilson uses many sides of his voice here, and his performance is stunning. West also stands out with lots of excellent keyboard textures, including a really melodic solo part-way through. Towards the end of the song, the melodies from the song's acoustic intro return, but with a full symphonic backing - it is truly stirring stuff! Turned to Dust is much simpler. This song, with it's heavy riffing and soaring chorus is very reminiscent of the songs that filled up March of Progress and gives you a nice headbanging piece after the more complex The Box. That is not to say that this song is not good however, as it is classic Threshold and boasts a really solid chorus of it's own!

Lost in Your Memory is a slower ballad, based around a really nice piano line. There is definitely an influence of 1980s AOR throughout this song with very prominent keyboards, clean guitar lines and lots of backing vocals to help Wilson. There is a really melodic guitar solo too that make use of note bending in a very classic prog way! Autumn Red is up next and it is probably my favourite song on the album. When I first heard it, the guitar line in the verse really stood out to me, and it was swimming around in my head for days after. That simple guitar line still does this, and it has proves to be one of the most memorable things on the album. Wilson sounds fantastic during this song's verses, and the chorus flows like only a Threshold chorus can. James also really stands out during this song. He is always more restrained on record, or than when he plays with his other band Kyrbgrinder, but for a short section after the song's guitar solo he really lets rip! The Mystery Show sounds a little like a sequel to The Box in some ways sound-wise. The introduction uses lots of effect-drenched guitars and vocals, but soon morphs into another progressive piece, albeit much shorter than The Box. The chorus has that similar, drawn-out structure to it and sees Wilson sounding his most theatrical as the song draws to a spooky close. The album's final song is the stunning Siren Sky, written by guitarist Pete Morten. He already showed us how strong of a songwriter he is with Coda and bonus track Divinity from March of Progress, but this is his best song yet! The song opens with hypnotic keyboards but crunching guitar riffing and double bass drumming soon kicks in and the song becomes a really heavy beast with some really rhythmic guitar playing. Like all Threshold songs though, melody is always king - and the chorus section is truly heavenly. There is also a rather spacey guitar solo that relies on atmospherics as much as technical skill. It has a little of Marillion's Steve Rothery about it, and helps to reinforce that progressive vibe. This song is majestic, and one of the best songs the band have ever produced, seriously. Overall, For the Journey is a really stunning piece of work. Every song here is really enjoyable (including the bonus track - a cover of Kyrbgrinder's I Wish I Could) and the album hangs together really well. After the five year delay between 2007's Dead Reckoning and March of Progress; plus the tragic death of former frontman Andrew MacDermott, the band have bounced back with two excellent albums in two years. Threshold are one of my favourite bands for a reason, and these albums are part of this.

The album was released on 22nd September 2014 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Watchtower on the Moon.

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