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Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.78 | 448 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

AmericanKhatru
5 stars There's a tendency when reviewing later works of a band to compare their latest offerings to the work of the past. I'm certainly going to be guilty of it in some places with this review, but I had difficulty finding good comparisons between this album and the rest of SB's catalog. But I guess the reason for that is because in many ways, the last album Spock's Beard released was their own way of turning a corner from the departure of Neal Morse: on "X', they are off and running. The result is one of the most enjoyable albums I've listened to of late and, in my opinion, one of, if not the best album Spock's Beard has ever produced.

The band wasted no time in starting the album off on a high note. "Edge of the In- Between" starts with an opening reminiscent of both "Dreaming in the Age of Answers" and "At the End of the Day". But, there is so much energy stemming throughout the song; the band sounds like they're really enjoying the music. It's familiar, yet fresh and vibrant. I'll admit, I've never really liked the lyrics of previous SB albums, but here (and throughout the album), they are exceptionally well written and sung extremely well by Nick D'Virgilio. His vocal style, which is much more powerful and upfront than Morse's, complements itself very nicely with the musical style here. Also on this song is another noticeable improvements on one of my other pet peeves: solos that actually take the listener somewhere. For once, Alan Morse and Ryo Okumoto don't seem to randomly plop guitar and keyboard solos in the middle of a song for no reason: they make sense and merge parts of the songs together nicely.

Spoiler alert ahead: the writing for "The Emperor's Clothes" features a blast from the past. This song strikes me as much more whimsical and fanciful, which is nice because it really shows how much the band seems to be enjoying their work.

"Kamikaze" is very similar to "Skeletons at the Feast" off of the last album, and is thus probably my least favorite part. But again, the music actually seems to go somewhere: rather than just four or five guys playing whatever they want to for 5 minutes, there's a sense of direction and a flow (no pun intended) to the music.

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"From the Darkness" is my favorite song on the album. The technical mastery here is impressive, and everything is gelling smoothly at this point. This song rocks: plain and simple. It has a fantastic tempo and edge to it in the first section that you could have a rock aficionado listen to and like. The transitions between sections on this song, and the album as a whole, are my favorite part due to how crisp and natural they are: very little, if any of that sudden shift stuff that is so annoying. There's a lot of this song that reminds me of Yes, not so much for the edge (Spock's Beard has a much harder edge to their songs than Yes does), but for the solid interplay between guitar, keyboard, bass, and drums and the natural ebb and flow.

"The Quiet House" is anything but. There is fantastic bass work by Dave Meros here (and seeing as he wrote the music, why not?). Alan Morse showcases some of his trademark guitar sounds, but, as I've said before, it goes somewhere and has a point to it. This is a very unique sound for SB, something there really isn't a good comparison to in the rest of the catalog. Crank up the stereo for this one.

"Their Names Escape Me" has my favorite vocal work on the entire album. The lyrics are pure poetry and Nick's voice is perfect for their meaning. This is also one of the greatest homages to a band's fans that I've ever heard. Because Spock's Beard declined to sign a record deal, they required independent financing from their fans to record this album. Everyone who contributed a certain amount (I can't remember how much now) had their name included in the course of the song. Here's where their musical prowess peaks: they can take a list of their financial benefactors and transform it into a part of a song that actually makes sense in the context of the song.

"The Man Behind the Curtain" is the hardest rocker on the album, at first, but it transitions into a much lighter piece that echoes parts of the first track of the album, before regaining it's edge about three minutes later. I can see what the band tried to do, but it was really unnecessary, and it fell kind of flat, as it was more of the same from earlier in the album.

It's become something of a trademark move for Spock's Beard to save some of their strongest music for the ends of the album, and the final song "Jaws of Heaven" is no exception. A great mixture of symphonic prog and the harder sound that SB has embraced in their latest offerings. The opening portion reminds me a lot of Opeth's "Closure" off of their "Damnation" album, but once again, it's not a knock-off of anything. Parts of this song start to meander a bit, bit the saving grace is that they get back on track fairly quickly, rather than continuing to who knows where. A great way to finish the album.

So, this review was way more comprehensive than I planned it to be, but the reality is that there is so much of this album to explore. This is more than a complete offering: it is Spock's Beard removing the monkey off of their back and getting back down to the business of creating great music. It is a thoroughly enjoyable listen, and hopefully marks an exciting new direction from a band that has made some great contributions to progressive music in the present day. "X" is easily worth 5 stars.

AmericanKhatru | 5/5 |

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