Progressive Rock and Spock’s Beard
Progressive Rock has been a consistently fresh genre, from the 70’s influential bands like Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and Rush among others to modern day representatives like popular European acts Porcupine Tree, The Flower Kings, Riverside and finally the American representatives Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic. I had to mention the American vs European idea because progressive rock/metal in general is known to be more genuine, fresh and widely supported in Europe than in America where other rock/metal musical genres are more dominant. With that said, according to Spock’s Beard’s last.fm page, there’s approximately 115 000 listeners compared to Porcupine Tree’s 530 000. Thus, they are still a bit underrated but with a loyal following of prog heads and a reputation of being unique.
Now after the departure of the ever-so-praised Neal Morse (vocals, multi-instrumentalist, Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic and Christian band Neal Morse), drummer/multi-instrumentalist Nick D’Virgilio took the vocal duties as well as recording drums for studio albums while Jimmy Keegan covered as the tour drummer while Nick sang and played rhythm guitars with Neal’s brother Alan Morse, bassist Dave Meros and keyboardist Ryo Okumoto.
Album info/feedback || Review
X is Spock’s Beard’s 10th studio album and in my opinion, their best. As stated before, when talking about Spock’s Beard, several if not most fans still compare the band to their earlier works with Neal Morse and that’s really uncalled for here: this album shows more ‘band spirit‘ than all of their other releases combined. After all, it was Alan Morse who said in an interview with prog-sphere.com (check full interview here) that “It’s much more difficult when you have four or five guys with more or less equal say weighing in on something, rather than one guy pretty much having the final say. Now mostly the writers on the particular song have the final say, but we all have much more input in general”. That sounds like a tighter band to me and they sure do sound like it on this highly energetic album.
Online reviews vary over the significance of this album: some praised it while others have yet to accept the departure of Neal and the new found spirit of a band trying to mix a renown trademark sound with their own musical creativity. Nevertheless, what we all agree on is that each musician stands out here, from the fresh and highly addictive rhythm section of drummer Nick D’Virgilio / bassist Dave Meros to the extravagant keyboard/piano/mellotrone skills of Ryo Okumoto and the ever-so unique guitar work of Alan Morse.
What’s interesting is that the album is an independent release funded by fans who pre-ordered the album before it was even recorded. The band thanked their fans’ contributions/support with a track on the limited edition album entitled “Their Names Escape Me” in which they mention all the supporters’ names in a musical context of course.
I have to mention that the album runs at 80 minutes with solid compositions and several epic lengthy tracks without ever ‘milking‘ a certain idea to its depletion: it all flows perfectly.
The first song “Edge of the In-Between” is such a great opener for this release, as it shows the symphonic side of the band. There’s definitely a mellow hard rock section in the song but there are also some amazing runs in it as well! This is a great example of the outstanding musical expressiveness of each musician and the newly-found band spirit which Alan talked about.
The second song “The Emperor’s Clothes” has the grandest first-listen impact of all with that trumpet and string section work and overall enjoyable vibe. Again, the band throws some of its trademark A cappella parts there with some of best progressive rock I ever heard (drum solo, piano part, insane guitar and bass work). I recommend it to everyone who wishes to hear the uniqueness of the band.
“Kamikaze“, a 4 minute instrumental credited to Ryo Okumoto, showcases his crazy miscellaneous skills as well as the band’s 70’s progressive rock influences mixed with modern edginess. It’s another enjoyable song with those intense guitar licks by Alan, the proggy time signatures and the amazing bass tone by Dave Meros.
“From The Darkness” is a 17 minute song with 4 parts: The Darkness, Chance Meeting, On My Own and Start Over Again. The first two parts here are mellow, introductory parts to the storyline of the song but the real fun starts from that piano break signaling the start of Part 3: On My Own. I simply cannot overstate the beautiful creativity of Nick on the drums there: he has his own style and he’s always spot on with just the perfect beat, addictive cymbal work and use of percussion. Finally, Part 4: Start Over Again also starts with a piano interlude and represents the ‘new birth’ in the storyline / lyrics > “Start over again – Feel alive come on and take it” hence the joyful atmosphere/chorus/ending. This is definitely my favorite song on the album (do check the excerpts on the band’s Myspace),
“The Quiet House” is credited to Dave Meros (once can notice that from the strong solid bassline) and is another good song on the album. It might be a bit off at first due to a mellow vocal line but it really picks up the pace later on with Alan’s explosive wah-wah leads. Still, I wouldn’t recommend the song to first time listeners; this one grows on the listener with time.
“The Man Behind the Curtain” also features a string quartet section which I admired. The song is joyful to say the least and the chorus is quite catchy. It’s nice to listen to non-somber moody songs from time to time, and this one does compare to moods by King’s X: cheerful enjoyable prog rock.
The album ends with “Jaws of Heaven“, another 16 minute epic with 4 parts: Homesick For The Ashes, Words of War, Deep In The Wondering and Whole Again. Part 1 introduces the story with no rhythm section here but a ‘nostalgic’ guitar/keys accompanies Nick’s moving vocal lines and lyrics talking about a weary disassembled man walking alone in the road of perdition. Part 2 shows a major 70’s progressive rock influenced atmospheric vibe that escalates slowly to parts 3 and 4, the grand atmospheric ending of the song and album, where the aforementioned disassembled man feels whole again with the past and troubles behind him.
Here’s an excerpt from the song:
The band uploaded several excerpts from the album on their official Myspace (view Links below). The album can be purchased here from their official website.