Monday, 11 December 2017

Threshold - London Review

Threshold are one of my favourite British metal bands. Their concise and melodic take on progressive metal has gained them fans around the world and are a more palatable option for many when it comes to the genre. Given their highly melodic and accessible nature it is perhaps surprising that they are not more popular than they are, but the band seem to the comfortable with their relatively modest stature. The band have been around for nearly 30 years now, having formed in 1988, so it unsurprising that the band have settled into the groove of fairly frequent short European tours with festival dates often thrown in during the summer season for good measure. Earlier this year Threshold released their eleventh studio album Legends of the Shires, a double concept album which saw the band return to their more overtly 'progressive' sound after a run of albums with a more straight ahead melodic metal sound. This new album saw the return of singer Glynn Morgan to the band after a twenty year-plus absence, and his smooth vocal performance is a big part of what makes Legends of the Shires so strong. This latest European trek, the first with Morgan since the touring cycle to promote 1994's Psychedelicatessen, took Legends of the Shires around some of the band's key fanbases and culminated with a home-country show at the O2 Academy in London's upmarket Islington. The Islington Academy is a popular spot for metal bands, so it is a place that I have visited regularly over the years. In fact I saw Threshold there last year, which saw the band perform the whole of their previous album For the Journey, but the Threshold of today is different to the one of January 2016. As mentioned previously, Morgan has replaced outgoing frontman Damian Wilson and Threshold have now slimmed down to a five-piece with the departure of second guitarist Pete Morten. While Morgan now contributes some extra guitar work live, on the whole Threshold are now a one guitar band - something which has it's pros and cons. With snow affecting large parts of the UK, I was worried that the turnout for the show might be quite poor. Luckily this was not the case however and the Islington Academy was pretty full throughout the night, especially by the time Threshold took to the stage at 9pm.

Before Threshold's set however the crowd were treated to two support acts. First up were Day Six from the Netherlands who impressed with half an hour or so of energetic progressive metal. Mixing powerful tech metal riffing with spacey vocal sections made for a dynamic sound, and one that was not too derivative of any of the big names in the genre. Robbie Van Stiphout (vocals/guitar) was the band's focal point, and he owned the stage with his energetic guitar playing, often throwing over-the-top shapes and pulling faces. For a progressive act, there was little in the way of soloing, with the riffs forming the basis of the songs. Any lead work came from keyboardist Rutger Vlek, who's retro-sounding synths helped to cut through the tough guitars. While Day Six's songs were not overly melodic, I enjoyed the band's slightly off-beat sound. I liked the fact that the band had an original take on the progressive metal genre, and they seem like the sort of band I should explore further.

Up next were symphonic metal rising stars Damnation Angels, who also supported Threshold on their last European tour. This time however they were upgraded to the 'main' support act, and as a result had a little longer on stage. The previous tour saw the band give an extended trial to frontman Ignacio Rodriguez, who passed with flying colours and has since become an official member of Damnation Angels. As a result, despite how good they were last time, this time around the band felt complete and they really owned the stage during their five-song set. The band came out to a symphonic backing, and opened with Finding Requiem from their most recent album The Valiant Fire. While still a four-piece, without a full-time keyboard player, which meant that most of the orchestral elements were part of a backing track, Rodriguez now handles some live keyboard work - usually piano parts - which adds to the show. This was evident early on during Bringer of Light, which saw him behind his keyboard for part of the song before coming out to the front to sing the epic chorus. The band seemed to treat the show as if it was their own show, and the energy coming from the stage was palpable. Founding member Will Graney (guitar/vocals) was particularly animated throughout, often posing for cameras and singing nearly all of the lyrics while peeling off his tough riffs and fluid solos. There were plenty of Damnation Angels fans in attendance, which was evident during the chorus for This is Who We Are which saw the crowd joining in at times. Despite all of their song impressing, it was the lengthy ending number The Longest Day of My Life that stood out the most. Rodriguez really owned the song with an piercing vocal display, and the lush orchestrations really filled the venue. It got me thinking how I wish that the band put on their own tour in the near future, as I would love to see a full-length set from the band. The setlist was:

Finding Requiem
Bringer of Light
This is Who We Are
The Longest Day of My Life

The lights in the venue went down again at 9pm, and Threshold took to the stage after a short intro and hit the ground running straight away with a powerful version of Slipstream, one of the band's most well-known songs. With the other four members of the band now being Threshold veterans, all eyes were on 'new' singer Morgan who proceeded to own the song. His smooth voice has more in common with the late Mac's than it does with Wilson's, so his performance of Slipstream was pretty close to the original album version. Morgan certainly had the most to prove out of everyone on stage and, for the most part, he acquitted himself very well. While there were a few moments during the evening where I thought he was struggling a little bit, which was probably the result of being near the end of his first tour in many years, overall he sounded great and really gave his all to the performance. Six songs from the impressive new album were featured throughout the evening, with the lengthy The Man Who Saw Through Time coming next to showcase the band's more progressive sound. Richard West (keyboards/vocals) dominates the song with his delicate piano melodies and cinematic soundscapes, but in truth it is a real band effort which showcases the current Threshold line-up at their best. A couple of older numbers followed; with the jaunty Long Way Home and the murky Innocent, a composition of Morgan's from his first stint with the band, providing plenty of light and shade early on. Innocent was the only song in the set which saw Morgan playing guitar for the entirety of the piece, which gave it a much fuller sound.

As mentioned earlier, having founding member Karl Groom (guitar/vocals) handling the vast majority of the songs alone on his guitar has it's pros and cons. On the plus side, the vocals and Steve Anderson's bass playing really have a lot of room to breathe. Anderson is a busy player, and it was great to be able to hear what he was doing more clearly than previously. On the other hand however, there were times in the set that lacked crunch. Having two guitars really bulks up the band's sound and the moments when Morgan picked up his guitar too really proved this. It would be great to see him taking on more guitar responsibilities going forward, as Threshold's sound really is built for two guitars and he is clearly a more than proficient guitarist. Songs like AOR-tinged Stars and Satellites actually benefited from the less-cluttered arrangement however, as it allowed the keyboards to really shine through and the vocal harmonies from the band during the chorus really filled the room. After delving back into the band's past once again for the heavy Sunseeker, the remainder of the set was mostly focused on the band's more recent work. The serene The Shire - Part 2 and the progressive metal of Snowblind contrasted with each other well, and showcased the variation of material found on Legends of the Shires. The latter in particular was one of the best songs of the night, with some excellent drumming from long-time sticksman Johanne James. Two of the band's setlist staples brought the main portion of the set to a close, with the lengthy pseudo-ballad Pilot in the Sky of Dreams and the driving, political Mission Profile both bringing big reactions from the crowd, who called for more after the band had left the stage. The was time for a couple more, and the band opted to play two more new songs as an encore which shows how much faith they have in their new material. Another lengthy number in Lost in Translation came first, which had some excellent slide guitar work from Groom towards the end in a Pink Floyd-inspired section, with the hard-hitting new single Small Dark Lines finishing everything off in style. The setlist was:

The Man Who Saw Through Time
Long Way Home
Stars and Satellites
The Shire - Part 2
Pilot in the Sky of Dreams
Mission Profile
Lost in Translation
Small Dark Lines

Overall this was another great showing from Threshold. It was my third time seeing the band and it was great to hear so many songs in the set which I had not heard them do previously. I am looking forward to hearing more from this line-up of the band, and I hope for another tour in the not-so-distant future.

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