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Thinking Plague - A History of Madness   CD (album) cover

A HISTORY OF MADNESS

Thinking Plague

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.11 | 60 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

ShW1
5 stars Blown apart - blown away.

That's what I felt when I came to know this album, a couple of years ago. (This review is edited in August 2009). I was thrilled by the contemporary music ideas and techniques assimilated in a wonderful rock creation, I was entranced by the sheer beauty all over, and I was deeply moved by the subject and the whole atmosphere.

This is one of those albums which listening to, you are into a spiritual experience. One of the albums that takes the listener to a journey, into places, into a specific time, and deep into the soul.

The time: the 10th century. The place: south of France. It deals with a 10th century Christian religious sect, named Cathars, which believed in ideas that weren't aligned with the mainstream church, therefore was destroyed. (This information apears only at TP website, not on the album cover). The lyrics tell about the destruction, Cathars ideas, life, death, and life after death. The music is rooted in avant/contemporary classical music, and on the other hand, as I learned later on, also relate to music from 10-12 centuries. The melodies are not as atonal as some might think. Most of them are just modern. Very complex, yet beautiful. Vocalist Deborah Perry's delivery helps a lot to get into the melodies, sung with grace and delight. The music itself flows wonderfully. There is always something coming out: rock riffs, great solos, diverse rhythms, and some calmer moments, less modern and more tonal.

I will try to describe the tracks and the whole album:

Right after a short gibbering and a snare roll, comes the first track melody, "Blown apart" that enter the listener straight to the point with a bouncy, uplifting melody. Surprisingly, it developed into another moods and styles, so it ends with a short piece of contemplative, jazzy style.

Than comes the 2nd track, "Consolamentum". This is a ceremony of the Cathars sect that is performed before ones death. The atmosphere is ritually and mystical. The word "consolamentum" is repeated many times. The drums emphasize it very well. Shivering. Suddenly there is a break that comes out to a stunning guitar solo.

Everything is cut off immediately and we come to the 3rd track, "Rapture of the deep". This is a beautiful song with modern melody, accompanied guitar arpeggios, which creates an absolutely flowing, dreamy atmosphere. But that's not all: near the end, it breaks through a slow steady 4/4 rock style, giving the bass the main role. It is very powerful.

After such strong, diverse tracks we have to calm down and rest a little bit. We get this with the 4th track, "Gudmay", which is an ethnic one. The influence comes from the Balkan. It played by few acoustic instruments.

Now comes the second part of the album, which is much more modern, with demanding parts to go through. There comes the first march. The marches are short pieces for pianos and harmoniums, modern and Atonal. Then comes "Way of life": it starts with short, strong and repeated guitar chords. The melody seems to be understood, but soon stars the first soundscape in this album, electronically performed.

Another march, now we get to the 8th track, which is the most demanding track: "Least aether for saxophone", 9 minutes Length. It start as a complete modern classical composition: a long, slow modern atonal tune for sax, which moves to hands clapping, turns to water, turns to the second soundscpae in this album, that performed just by saxophones. This very unique composition is written and performed by Mark Harris, the woodwind player. (The whole rest is written by Mike Johnson, guitarist and composer).

Fade out "Least aether" with it's tortured saxophones, fade in Track 9, "The underground stream", with its gentle guitar. Its starts much more calmed and acceptable, even though after the calm part comes a piano solo improvisation, in impressionistic style.

Another march, and we get to the last track, "Lux lucet": an absolutely amazing composition, encompassing wide range of influences, from jazz rock through south American compositions, which can be heard at the nylon guitar riffs, modern classical melody, all melted together, astonish developed, stirring, rhythmic. In fact the development features polytonal methods, Stravinsky - like. 'Rite of spring' comes alive in rock at last, in so enchanting and convincing way.

Toward the end, the lyrics say, "push ahead chasing the fear, and never a tear shed for old endings, beginning again". After all this suffering (that's described all over the album), there is a place for hope and optimism. (Even if it comes after death). To illustrate this, Mike Johnson uses a slide guitar, sitar like, that sounds like Indian Music, which let us think about ideas of the remaining of the soul.

It could be end this album with this unique, meditative moment, but the sadness has to be kept, so comes the four and last march, and that seals the whole album. Actually the last sounds before the end of this very deep and unique creation, is the sound of closing the piano cover, and children playing, far, far away.

Before I finish this review, I'll add few words about the execution and production: Thinking plague does not sound here exactly as a band, but more of an ensemble, executing a composer creation. It link to a classic execution, more than a rock band. Each TP member, as well as guest musicians, does remarkable job in deliver this creation. Since I can't praise them all, I'll mention particular the new faces: drummer David Shamrock provides a very stable drumming, and each drum hit is clear and right in its place. However this is not just a technical drumming, it could be very moving and contribute a lot to each track. Previous drummer Dave Kerman is a guest musician here, playing some percussions, and contribute his regular furious and hilarious mood. And Matt Mitchell on pianos and keys is a genius. Simply that.

It took me long time before I fully understood the sound concept: The sound of the album is most of the time blurry and not clear and sharp. This is done on purpose. Many colors, instruments and effects are hidden, and the listener won't discover them at first listens. But this beauty will be exposed at last. Yet, this very original and complicate production attitude requires more than achieved eventually IMO.

But this is not so important when you're blown away.

A true masterpiece of RIO and progressive rock.

ShW1 | 5/5 |

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