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Liquid Tension Experiment - Liquid Tension Experiment CD (album) cover


Liquid Tension Experiment


Progressive Metal

3.81 | 393 ratings

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Black Max
4 stars First off, this is NOT a Dream Theater album, and some DT fans have been disappointed in this one; personally, I love this album. Instead of the usual bombastic prog-overload material which, to my mind, mars every DT album I've ever heard, this is a group of fast-paced, high-octane instrumentals by four musicians who are enjoying challenging themselves and each other to see just how fast and intricately they can play. The word is that everything on this album is improvised -- I can't believe that is 100% true, because of the sheer complexity and fast shifts that take place within the songs. "Worked up from improvisations" is probably a better description. As someone in an earlier review pointed out, the idea of LTE began as a "supergroup" put together by the Magna Carta label; after several different musicians cycled through the project without actually performing together, the lineup solidified with drummer Mike Portnoy and guitarist John Petrucci of Dream Theater, keyboardist Jordan Rudess of Rod Morgenstern's band, and King Crimson's Tony Levin on bass and stick.

I first listened to this material as a King Crimson fan interested in a side project of Tony Levin's, and was surprised, and initially disappointed, to find that Levin tends to take a back seat to the other musicians throughout the album. As I listened to it more, I began to understand the album: three young, cocky musicians full of piss and vinegar stretching themselves to their musical limits, anchored by Levin's bass/stick. Levin's role is to keep the music hanging together, almost like a musical mentor laying back and letting his students shine while keeping everything tight. Petrucci shows his chops as a flamethrower of a guitarist in the Steve Vai-Joe Satriani school of shredding, Portnoy shines as a drummer equal to, and similar to, Rush's Neal Peart, and Levin, though rarely taking the limelight, holds everything together. The (at the time) lesser-known Rudess is a fine addition, adding lovely, and at times frenzied, keyboards, probably best compared to "Relayer"-era Patrick Moraz. The songs themselves work the gray area between jazz and progressive rock, with a metallic edge.

The songs vary, from lightspeed romps like "Paradigm Shift" and "Universal Mind," to more thoughtful, melodic pieces like "Kindred Spirits" and "Osmosis." Even in the slower, more moody pieces, the musicians' exuberance often breaks through, as one or the other finds it impossible to hold back any longer. The centerpiece of the album is the 28-minute improv "Three Minute Warning," inexplicably divided up into five chunks. Everyone gets a chance to rip their instruments to pieces in this one. Critics have slammed "TMW," and the album as a whole, as "technical masturbation" and "technical excess with no heart," but I don't hear it that way. These are four tremendously talented musicians enjoying themselves, making music that they want to play, and tossing solos back and forth from each other -- you can almost hear, say, Petrucci ripping off a fiery solo and then throwing it over to Rudess, saying "Beat THAT!" Yes, there are moments of derivative "prog cheese," particularly on Rudess's part, and some of Petrucci's solos seem somewhat pointless, but that's all part of the with it! The album is sheer musical exuberance. If you're a fan of musical improvisation, warp-speed guitars, thunderous precision drumming, jazz-rock exposition, or just want to hear what four musicians who absolutely enjoy their craft and enjoy challenging themselves and each other, this album will become an essential for your collection.

Black Max | 4/5 |


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