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Thinking Plague - In Extremis CD (album) cover

IN EXTREMIS

Thinking Plague

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.28 | 121 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Steve Hegede
Prog Reviewer
5 stars I hate to start this review using the word "wow". But here it goes...wow! For those of you who are unfamiliar with THINKING PLAGUE, they are one of the leading bands in the modern Rock-in-opposition movement. Rock-in-opposition, or RIO for short, can be traced back to the early musical experiments of Frank ZAPPA, but the actual left-leaning movement began in Europe with bands like HENRY COW, STORMY SIX, and PICCHIO DAL POZZO.

As the 1980s began, RIO became an international, non-political, musical genre. What does RIO sound like? The RIO sound is almost impossible to describe because it is open to all sorts of influences and ideas, but the bands tend to mix 20th Century avant-garde classical influences, with progressive rock, and avant-jazz. So the music tends to sound dissonant, complex, angular, yet totally addictive. What makes this music addictive for me are the quirky rhythms found in most RIO bands. Some of Frank ZAPPA's crazier rhythms are a good comparison, but the RIO bands usually come up with ideas that no one else has thought of. The bands break new ground with each new album.

"In Extremis" is the latest album from THINKING PLAGUE, and it's quite a treat. I'll try to describe the music from the bottom up to hopefully give you an idea of their sound. The drum and bass work on this album is phenomenal. Dave Kerman and Bob Drake work themselves into complex grooves that are so catchy, that they sometimes have a strange danceable-quality to them (if you are also able to dance to some of ZAPPA's music). Somehow they also manage to create a layer of sound that is separate, yet parallel, to what the other musicians are playing. In fact, most listeners will be amazed at the amount of layers in this music. Each musician in TP seems to be in their separate world, but somehow the colliding sounds fit perfectly together.

Anyway, over the "rhythm-layer" we find a mix of classical and rock instruments. The melodies, and flurries of counter-melodies, seem influenced by Schoenberg's 12-tone music. Guitarist Mike Johnson leads with his excellent guitar work, but he is closely followed by dozens of instruments which include piano, clarinet, cello, flute, and violin. Microtonal influences appear in a number of sections and seem to be done by electronic manipulation and synths. The chords created by the various instruments are densely-dissonant (but not ugly), and have an Edgar Varese-quality to them. This, of course, might sound like too much for some, but I have to add that the band has a talent for creating hooks that remain locked in your head long after the album is done.

In my opinion, singer Deborah Perry has an important role for making this musically complex album accessible to a progressive rock audience. Her vocal lines are dissonant, and 12-tone based, yet her delivery has an avant-pop quality to it that should sound strangely beautiful even to someone who is unfamiliar with modern classical. Some of the CD's highlights include the opening track "Dead Silence" which is a tour-de-force and features catchy vocals and lyrics. "Les Etudes D'Organism" is a 14-minute epic that features a section influenced by early circus music. However, that section sounds like circus music composed by Arnold Schoenberg. The remaining tracks each explore new ground, unexplored sounds, and 20th century musical theories.

Overall, I would recommend "In Extremis" to musically adventurous prog fans. But if your also looking for an introduction to avant-garde music, and RIO, this is another perfect CD to start with.

Steve Hegede | 5/5 |

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