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Spock's Beard - Octane CD (album) cover

OCTANE

Spock's Beard

 

Symphonic Prog

3.13 | 270 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

relayer35
4 stars The second release from Spock's Beard without Neal Morse is called "Octane". It is due out Feb 1st in the US. I was a pretty big Spock's Beard fan up until the release of "Snow", where I kind of lost interest for a while. While I eventually got back into "Snow", the shocking news of Neal Morse's departure from Spock's Beard had me worried. I always considered Neal to be the real genius behind the Beard, so I was unsure what to expect when "Feel Euphoria" came out in 2003. When I finally got "Feel Euphoria" I felt it was absolute garbage. What happened to the Beard that I once knew so well?

Well, they are back, sort of. "Octane" restored my faith in this group of musicians. This is the 2nd album with Nick D'Virgilio leading the band, and in many ways he has lead them back to the groove that was present throughout the Morse era, but still falls short in places. Like "Feel Euphoria" and "Day For Night", "Octane" includes an "epic" divided into several smaller sub-sections. "A Flash Before My Eyes" is the name of the epic. It is about someone who sees his entire life flash before his eyes after being hit in a fatal automobile accident. Each movement is another chapter in the lead characters life.

"The Ballet Of The Impact" starts it off and sets the course for the rest of the piece. The main musical theme of this part is repeated several times throughout the epic. It starts with some classic melotron sounds providing atmosphere before quickly heading into the fast paced main theme. It then moves into the vocal section that sets up the story, with Nick sounding a lot like Neal. This is a very effective start to the piece, and to the CD.

The next part is called "I Wouldn't Let It Go. It has an almost western feel to it, and doesn't really work. This piece is pretty pedestrian in nature, and not really effective musically, but serves the purpose of propelling the story forward. "Surfing Down The Avalanche" is a rocker along the lines of Dream Theater that covers life through growing up through puberty and feeling different than everyone else. This piece is an embarrassing display of "rawk". Nick's screaming vocals are forced and contrived. This is clearly the low point of the album, and maybe of the Beard's musical career as well.

Things improve greatly for the next movement, "She Is Everything" a ballad about the lead characters falling in love and marrying. This is one of the stronger moments of "Octane". This perfectly contrasts the raw "Surfing Down The Avalanche" that precedes it. "Climbing Up The Hill" and "Letting Go" continue the story through the trials and tribulation of life. Once again, Nick's vocals seem strained during "Climbing Up The Hill" as he attempts to sound differently than he does normally.

"Letting Go" is a short, dreamy, atmospheric instrumental interlude that leads to the final movement, "Of The Beauty Of It All" which is one of the finest moments of the Beard's career. This "recap" looks at the missed opportunities of life, and the regrets, and finally brings closure to the life of the lead character. The piece starts slowly, and builds up to a climax, until the ultimate end in which the emotion is so strong that the listener is actually one with the music in the final moments of life. Not only is this a perfect ending to the epic, but it holds up extremely well as a single piece of music as well. This is as emotional as the Beard has ever been. This song is worth the price of the CD alone. Nick's vocals are restrained here, and perfect for the emotion of the song. Combined with flowing keyboards from Ryo that build up the emotion before developing into a fast paced instrumental showcase. The focus shifts and the main theme from the beginning is repeated, until the song ends with life fading away.

The rest of the CD contains more conventional songs. "NWC" is a rare instrumental, that reminds me a little of Porcupine Tree in it's construction. "There Was A Time" is a pretty straightforward pop song along the lines of "June" or "Waste Away". It's very infectious and catchy, and works very well for what it is. The highlight of the second half of the album is the very proggy "The Planet's Hum" which starts with an awesome bass line that is soon joined by acoustic guitar and flute. It changes gears drastically to hard metal, similar to "Surfing" but much more tastefully done, before it morphs into an almost classic Beard song from the Morse era. It is somewhat reminiscent of Gentle Giant in its arrangement. This is the second strongest piece on the CD. "Watching The Tide" is a weak piano based ballad that tries to build some emotion but doesn't succeed. The album closes with the fun "As Long As We Ride" which is a fast paced guitar driven song about driving around in the car with friends.

Overall, "Octane" restores my faith in Spock's Beard, as the four man band has shown that they can be creative and survive without Neal Morse, something that wasn't evident with the awful "Feel Euphoria". The musical playing is ambitious and effective throughout. The song writing is a drastic improvement from "Feel Euphoria" but still weak in places. While the embarrassing "Surfing Down The Avalanche" keeps this CD from being a classic, there is enough here for any Spock's Beard fan to enjoy. "Of The Beauty Of It All" is an instant classic and "The Planet's Hum" is prog at it's best.

| 4/5 |

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