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Thinking Plague - In Extremis CD (album) cover

IN EXTREMIS

Thinking Plague

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.33 | 115 ratings

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ShW1
5 stars "Inner music, though sweet, will never be complete" (from 'the Aesthete')

Maybe, but its pretty close! On the 4th album by the band, that considered by many as a milestone of RIO, and a groundbreaking progressive rock album.

Virtuosity is the name of the game here: virtuosity in the playing, in the singing, the compositions... here Thinking Plague is no longer the somewhat 'naïve' band from the 80's. It sounds more like a supergroup, a RIO monster, which unite the mobile forces from the American RIO scene. Join to Mike Johnson, former, guitarist and composer, are 'heroes' Dave Kerman on drums, and Bob Drake on sound and other things. (Drake also participated in early Plague, but sound here more powered and skilful). Both have already made their first steps and experiments, built their unique language and went further on, sometimes collaborating, and made some key albums of the scene. Newer faces at the time are Deborah Perry, that gain so many glows and compliments all over for her vocals, and rightly so, and Dave Willey who shares the bass duties with Bob Drake and provide the folkie touch when required, by his wonderful accordion. Along with TP older members Mark Harris on woodwinds, and Shane Hotle on keyboards, they altogether form a very strong and virtuoso band.

You can find everything here: humorous sections along with very somber sections, recalls for concrete music, atonal or almost atonal melodies, some tonal, catchy melodies and guitar riffs, very complex counterpoints, not to mention the time signatures, and I assume this is just a partial inventory.

Maybe as a result to this endless diversity, the atmosphere most of the time is frantic. If you happened not to be fully concentrated in the music, you'll probably find yourself in a completely different sonic environment, not knowing actually how you got there. This will be clarified only after numerous listening. (More than just 'numerous' actually).

I know, I know. Reading this you can think of a big mess now. Myself, I check such albums from time to time, and what I find sound to my ears as simply mess. Well, this is not the case here. The materials and ideas are organized and inspite of the angular transitions, there is a sense and inner logic in all of the 7 great compositions, which make out this album. The contents are structured, albeit it is done in unique ways, and the separation between the various compositions is well defined. The compositions are varied from each other, let alone the style diversity on each composition on its own. While each composition is a standalone one, there is an overall flow over the album, and path through many human feelings and moods. The bouncy start of the opener 'Dead silence' turns at last to the darkness and frightfulness of the closer 'Kingdome come'.

Since I mentioned 'Kingdom come'... Well, if Berlioz would write his 'Fantastic symphony', part 5 ('dream about the witches') nowadays, it might sound similar... Gregorian chant included. (around 12:45''). A relatively simple rhythm, 'drums of death', and one constant note are carrying this whole composition. Atonal melodies come and go on solemn and somber sections, finally burst out into a bombastic atonal riff. Fragments of that riff and from the opening melody could be heard all the way through, in a very wise instrumentation and counterpoint. This overwhelming composition is closed by two minutes interplay between drums and saxes, which completely takes you away... is it paradise? I'm not sure at all. It is impressive, it's strong, it is a programatic and descriptive music done in the best way.

One thing that nevertheless takes a little down for me is the sound and production. I'll mention that I'm in a very small minority here; most of the 'community' finds the sound and production made by Bob Drake as spectacular, with a crucial contribution to the final result. But for me, everything sound way over compressed. Indeed you can focus on every instrument quite easily, and there's quite a lot, but such things got its own cost. Most of the instruments sound choked and flat, vocals included. And the bass sound many times way too frontal, which takes off for many other instruments.

For anyone who feels like me (if there is one), I strongly recommend you to listen to the live versions on most of the album, in 'Upon both' live album. Along with the entire album, you'll get another perspective on the compositions.

But this fault IMO does not influence the final estimation. This is an essential listening for every proghead, not just RIO enthusiasts. This is one of the few albums that go further beyond its genre definitions and limitation. I would suggest listening to this at list once. If you don't feel you will find time and energies to 'encode' everything, try to focus on the more accessible compositions, 'This weird wind' (the YES style one) and 'Les etudes' (with the amusing circus section in the middle). And than again, this is a masterpiece of RIO, a masterpiece of modern prog, and a masterpiece of progressive rock. To make a long story short, this is a masterpiece. Five stars. Like peanuts.

ShW1 | 5/5 |

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