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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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Pafnutij
5 stars Thinking Plague's "In Extremis" is quite an achievement for the RIO genre, and for avant-garde music in general. Of course, that also means that it would appeal only to a limited audience, as the music has far more in common with Schoenberg and Stravinsky than Yes or Genesis, and the mostly dissonant, atonal and frequently cacophonous compositions may seem like a chaotic mess at first. In fact, it's the exact opposite, as the amount of thought that goes into every dischord and every "wrong" note is quite mind-boggling. Moreover, Thinking Plague have the ability to present even the weirdest passages in a very catchy and listenable format by carefully countering them with more conventional melodic material and occasionally humor, which has earned them the tag "accessible RIO" . This "accessibility", however, does not diminish the complexity of the music in any way, as TP are the authors of some of the most challenging compositions in the genre. Add to that the virtuosic musicianship and infectious grooves this band is well-known for, and you've got yourself quite a feast of truly progressive music. Comparing this album to the Plague's past efforts would be quite pointless on my part, not only and not so much because my only point of reference to past TP work is 'Moonsongs', but because 'In Extremis' was preceded by a 9-year break from studio work. This period was apparently marked by many line-up changes, side projects, hiatus , and , when possible, composing what would become 'In Extremis'. At the same time, the skills and maturity of the musicians had also evolved considerably, which is how the band arrived at this outstanding album. The compositions are creative and unique, and the meticulous arrangements incredibly dense, involving a whole lot of different instruments and playing styles. An interesting addition to the band is vocalist Deborah Perry: I'll admit that I find her style a bit flat (not in pitch, mind you, but in expression) , but the remarkable clarity of her voice and her mastery of difficult atonal passages are highly impressive and very admirable. The first two tracks are perfect examples of TP at their finest. Both are fast- paced, extremely groovy and filled with tons of fascinating ideas , from the muted guitar strumming that opens 'Dead Silence' to the excellent bass riffing in 'Behold the Man'. The singing on 'This Weird Wind' is done by Bob Drake, who is frequently compared to Jon Anderson of Yes for his high-pitched, slightly feminine voice - something that rather puzzles me, as their vocals, though perhaps similar in style, differ greatly nonetheless. The music is less Yes-like still, with lots of challenging , angular riffs and rhythms that guarantee, at the very least, a highly interesting listen. Next comes the album's centerpiece, the 14-long instrumental 'Les Etudes d'Organism', which was created, according to TP's guitarist/composer Mike Johnson, by combining two tracks from the band's earlier days ('Etudes for Combo' from 'Moonsongs' and "L'organism" from 'In this Life'), adding new material and humourizing it. While I've yet to hear "L'Organism", I do recognize motifs from "Etudes for Combo" , which I think fit perfectly in here . Perhaps the most unusual aspect of this track is the circus music section, which has led some people to criticize it for being a bit too "over the top". Whatever, I love it - the humor and freneticism of the music is very engaging, with plenty of weird stuff thrown about : the "melody" over the galloping guitar rhythm features particularly bizarre note choices - so bizarre, in fact, that they actually work. The screwed-up sax part I love as well. And as the track progresses, all the weirdness is balanced out by more melodic, moody material, once again highlighting the diversity of this wonderful group. 'Maelstrom' is the most dissonant track so far, and may appear a bit rough on the ears for a while, particularly during the cacophonous violin outro , which brings to mind some of Bartok's String Quartet work. However, it contributes considerably to the album's scope and is bound to grow on you eventually . 'The Aesthete' has more in common with the first two tracks, and, while I find it slightly weaker than the rest of the material, it is in no way a slacker and represents the band's sound and musical tendencies equally well. As 'In Extremis' draws to an end, you'd expect the band to dish out something special on the final track - and that is indeed the case, for 'Kingdom Come' is the darkest, most atmospheric number on the entire album. The electric guitar introduction is a good indication of this, with sounds of distant thunder evoking the album's cover art. It's temporarily replaced by a more conventional groovy TP section before once again dipping into ambient soundscapes aided by Mellotron. The truly magnificent moments here occur when that shimmering piano enters the mix with short, but unforgettably haunting motifs - brilliant! But the song continues meandering on through dark ambience and more optimistic sections, with some great music along the way, and gradually dissolves into percussion- driven noisemaking that closes this outstanding masterpiece. While it never reaches the "scariness" of Univers Zero, it doesn't aspire to, keeping instead it's own unique Thinking Plague approach.

As is the case with all challenging music, this album requires an open mind, patience, as well as some experience with this type of prog. But once you do "get it", the results are very rewarding indeed.

Pafnutij | 5/5 |

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