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IN EXTREMIS

Thinking Plague

RIO/Avant-Prog


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Greger
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars It's always hard to describe music that doesn't sound like anything else. This band isn't an exception. It's always a pleasure to listen to such incredible good musicians. Well composed and very carefully structured, even though some may think that it sounds like an unstructured musical madness. The music lies within avant-garde and art-rock in the boundaries between rock, folk, jazz and modern symphonic music. Odd and unique music that makes the adventurous listener never wants to stop listening. The title "In Extremis" is Latin and means "at the time of dying", and at times you may think that this music sounds like it's coming from the land of the dead. Sometimes it's close to MAGMA and ESKATON, sometimes YES, but most of the time, they sound like no other band. The whole album is a masterpiece with highlights such as "Dead Silence", "This Weird Wind", the 14 minutes "Les Etudes d'Organism" and "Kingdom Come" which contains a beautiful and moody Mellotron. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

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Send comments to Greger (BETA) | Report this review (#23871)
Posted Tuesday, March 02, 2004 | Review Permalink
Steve Hegede
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars I hate to start this review using the word "wow". But here it goes...wow! For those of you who are unfamiliar with THINKING PLAGUE, they are one of the leading bands in the modern Rock-in-opposition movement. Rock-in-opposition, or RIO for short, can be traced back to the early musical experiments of Frank ZAPPA, but the actual left-leaning movement began in Europe with bands like HENRY COW, STORMY SIX, and PICCHIO DAL POZZO.

As the 1980s began, RIO became an international, non-political, musical genre. What does RIO sound like? The RIO sound is almost impossible to describe because it is open to all sorts of influences and ideas, but the bands tend to mix 20th Century avant-garde classical influences, with progressive rock, and avant-jazz. So the music tends to sound dissonant, complex, angular, yet totally addictive. What makes this music addictive for me are the quirky rhythms found in most RIO bands. Some of Frank ZAPPA's crazier rhythms are a good comparison, but the RIO bands usually come up with ideas that no one else has thought of. The bands break new ground with each new album.

"In Extremis" is the latest album from THINKING PLAGUE, and it's quite a treat. I'll try to describe the music from the bottom up to hopefully give you an idea of their sound. The drum and bass work on this album is phenomenal. Dave Kerman and Bob Drake work themselves into complex grooves that are so catchy, that they sometimes have a strange danceable-quality to them (if you are also able to dance to some of ZAPPA's music). Somehow they also manage to create a layer of sound that is separate, yet parallel, to what the other musicians are playing. In fact, most listeners will be amazed at the amount of layers in this music. Each musician in TP seems to be in their separate world, but somehow the colliding sounds fit perfectly together.

Anyway, over the "rhythm-layer" we find a mix of classical and rock instruments. The melodies, and flurries of counter-melodies, seem influenced by Schoenberg's 12-tone music. Guitarist Mike Johnson leads with his excellent guitar work, but he is closely followed by dozens of instruments which include piano, clarinet, cello, flute, and violin. Microtonal influences appear in a number of sections and seem to be done by electronic manipulation and synths. The chords created by the various instruments are densely-dissonant (but not ugly), and have an Edgar Varese-quality to them. This, of course, might sound like too much for some, but I have to add that the band has a talent for creating hooks that remain locked in your head long after the album is done.

In my opinion, singer Deborah Perry has an important role for making this musically complex album accessible to a progressive rock audience. Her vocal lines are dissonant, and 12-tone based, yet her delivery has an avant-pop quality to it that should sound strangely beautiful even to someone who is unfamiliar with modern classical. Some of the CD's highlights include the opening track "Dead Silence" which is a tour-de-force and features catchy vocals and lyrics. "Les Etudes D'Organism" is a 14-minute epic that features a section influenced by early circus music. However, that section sounds like circus music composed by Arnold Schoenberg. The remaining tracks each explore new ground, unexplored sounds, and 20th century musical theories.

Overall, I would recommend "In Extremis" to musically adventurous prog fans. But if your also looking for an introduction to avant-garde music, and RIO, this is another perfect CD to start with.

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Send comments to Steve Hegede (BETA) | Report this review (#23872)
Posted Monday, March 22, 2004 | Review Permalink
relayer66@yah
3 stars It's a very good album and highly recommended. But I don't find myself listening to it time on end...it tends to bore me a bit. Still, well written, well played and well produced. Bob Drake's "This Wierd Wind" is a direct and fitting tribute to Awaken or Relayer era YES. I just don't have a lot to say about it other than it is good and it's worth checking out this riff-fest. It pales somewhat when compared to some of the RIO classics of the past (shall we call it Neo-RIO?). The 5uu's (Drake and Kerman's other band) are much better, at least from what I've heard of them (Hunger's Teeth).

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#37702)
Posted Sunday, June 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars This is the first Thinking Plague I've heard, and it was a real shock. The compositional brilliance on display here goes way beyond the capacities of any band I've heard since Zappa and Zorn. That's to say nothing of the brilliant arrangements and production, but these elements are all so deftly intermeshed that the album leaves one stunned and overwhelmed by its perfection. The influences are very diverse, making the music nearly impossible to describe, so just a few notes on the songs.

"Dead Silence" begins with a really catchy guitar comp and Deborah Perry's sassy vocal, so one thinks it'll be a smart college rock album, an impression totally dispelled by the quick entry of a Henry Cow-like B section with manically composed clarinet lines. The whole work is imbued with radically contrasting collaged style elements like this one, which make it totally unpredictable. It's all carried through by Mike Johnson's impeccable guitar work, which never relies on gimmicks and clichés, just very solid, soulful and virtuosic playing. "Behold the Man" bears the most Henry Cow influence, especially in the angular non- tonal vocal lines, though Perry's delivery is mostly calm and clear, with only occasional Dagmar-like emoting.

"This Weird Wind" seems as another reviewer mentioned some kind of tribute to Yes, or where they may have gone continuing in the direction of Relayer (which presumably scared off too many fans with its - gasp - dissonance!). The singing even resembles Chris Squire a bit, the bass lines very much, and Johnson plays like a Steve Howe gone amok. This cut is simply thrilling in concept and execution, taking a number of normally pleasant prog clichés into very new uncomfprtable territory. The arpeggiated keyboard lines and chordal textures here are especially original. "Les Etudes d'Organism" comes on like a Crimson meets Univers Zero tour de force, with some very interesting interplay between guitar and sampler, treated clarinet lines and other indescribable sounds. It's then interrupted by some insane sounding atonal Polka rhythms and some Mr. Bungle ska with mad hockey rink organ. Sounds crazy, but it all seems to make sense when the Univers Zero rhythms return. "Maelstrom" is another vehicle for the etheric vocals of Ms. Perry, starting very mellow with acoustic guitar figures and multi-tracked, treated vocals, then quicking leading to some very complex Zappaesque melodic figures complete with toy piano accompaniement. "The Aesthete" lives up to its name as perhaps the most erudite composition of the bunch, with traces of David Willey's folk music leanings (more thgoroughly followed in Hamster Theater's brilliant "Carnival Detournement", also featuring Mike Johnson). I forgot to mention that all of this really rocks and hangs on quite catchy themes.

The final cut, "Kingdom Come" has the apocalyptic brooding atmosphere of the Art Bear's The World As It Is Today", some threatening mellotron behind intricate guitar lines, as Perry sings, "Do the Angels weep, are these raindrops tears?" The piece ends with a climactic flurry of overlayed guitar riffs, dissolving into groaning guitar that hangs like a mushroom cloud over an agonized choir.

Here is a band not content to utilize the comfortable clichés of progressive mythology, but drags them kicking and screaming into the new century. not fleeing harsh realities but facing them head on. If I had to pick a best album of the 90s, in any category, this would be it. The brilliant production must be noted as well, for with such a plethora of styles and influences, it could easily fall apart in the wrong hands, but the mix is always clear and defined, the music always occupying a very tangible space.

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Send comments to RoyalJelly (BETA) | Report this review (#56035)
Posted Saturday, November 12, 2005 | Review Permalink
chopper
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars If you were to look for this CD in your local store, you certainly wouldn't find it in the "Easy Listening" section. This is an album that almost defies categorisation, but if you were to imagine a bizarre mixture of Trout Mask Replica, free jazz, early Yes, Hemispheres-era Rush and the Benny Hill theme tune, you might begin to get some idea of what it sounds like.

There are some moments of sheer beauty here, some amazing rhythms driven by a bass guitar sound that Geddy Lee would be proud of and the sometimes atonal vocals of Deborah Perry float over the top.

All of this make for a compelling mixture which demands to be listened to. This is not background music. For me, it's best heard on headphones where you can appreciate the separation of the instruments and the liberal use of panning.

As a bass player, I was initially attracted to this album by the awesome bass playing, particularly in the first track "Dead Silence", but, although this CD will not be to everyone's taste, the whole album deserves a wider audience.

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Send comments to chopper (BETA) | Report this review (#68656)
Posted Tuesday, February 07, 2006 | Review Permalink
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.

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Send comments to Pafnutij (BETA) | Report this review (#69940)
Posted Sunday, February 19, 2006 | Review Permalink
benzvi_a@kfar
5 stars What can I say A-m-a-z-i-n-g album, he is so uniq, full with all the goods. the first so "Dead silnce"- I think its the only bad song in the album he is too static for me, I dont know why they chose to start with him. but all the other song are just brilliant, specially Les Etudes d'Organism (14:00)- great amazing and funney song, very fun to listen.

So in the end its A must for all the RIO lovers and even other progrock lovers.

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Send comments to (BETA) | Report this review (#70322)
Posted Thursday, February 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars wow!- thats what I said when first hear that amazing album. well what make it so wow??? is got it all, just all, he is uniq as hell, suprised like the life, deep, simply amazing.

now, the first song "dead silence is the "wrost" song in the album, its kind a worm up song to me. (4\5) But right from the second song U can see that U have great album in hand- U got shock from the weird and the sound of the music at first time, its amazing song, but not perfect(4.5\5). the third song- first compltly perfect song, what a great timing from all of the musicns. (5\5) the fourth song- ok, this is "The-Song" kind a a klezmer and kind a RIO, 14 pure minuts of great fun,that never board me off. from my opinion its the best song in the album. (5\5). the five song is another fav of me- amazing vocals, and very good guitar from jhonson. (4.5\5) the sixth song is very hard to listen but its a good song as well.(4\4) the seven song- is the weirdest song, I dont know why but this song is like a mushine. its so cool, but very hard to listen(4.5\5).

sorry about my english, I am from israel, and I am 16 years old so...

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Send comments to proger (BETA) | Report this review (#73250)
Posted Monday, March 27, 2006 | Review Permalink
5 stars I think, Thinking Plague (what a great name!) is a merger of the concepts of Relayer-Yes, Western-Culture- Henry Cow, and Interview-Gentle Giant and of ... only mastermind and master guitar player Mike Johnson could know. And what develops from this ground is pure sonic adventure. Youre ears as well as this mind-emotion- vision-machine in between could be fed for years and years with this extzraorinary music. No doubt, 5 stars!

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Send comments to Cometa Rossa (BETA) | Report this review (#79460)
Posted Friday, May 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars As a huge fan of FZ,RIO and weird music in general, I thought I'd give this album a try. It was not at all what I expected. The album is, in a word, pompous. The lyrics try to be unnaturally intelligent. It's like they took out a word list and chose all the most complicated sounding words for the album (remember when you did that in eigth grade to try to impress your teacher). Well, it makes sounds sound awkward and forced, and it puts huge divots in the flow of the album. To top it off, they take every single opportunity available to hit the 'jazz note.' This is makes for an interesting SONG, but when you rinse and repeat for an entire album, it's really quite boring...and the whole time, the album gives off the vibe "well if you dont get it, you're just not as smart as us, man." Sorry "man" I'll just go back to listening to my lowly FZ.

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Send comments to SolariS (BETA) | Report this review (#85779)
Posted Friday, August 04, 2006 | Review Permalink
Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars Those reading regularly my reviews are aware that I listen to a fair amount of RIO records, and although not that much a favourite genre, I am generally receptive to RIO. However, I must say that, while I love UZ, AZ and many European groups, there is a dimension to RIO that I am not that big a fan of: the Henry Cow/Art Bears/Slapp Happy connection does not much for me. Musically halfway between those two crowds of musicians, Thinking Plague has also many things that disorient me so much for me to stop appreciating their music fully. And while this album is generally regarded as their best album (I confirm), it was their second start after a nine-year hiatus and turmoil. One notable addition is the weird-timbred Debbie Perry, which actually irritates me more than anything else on this album.

While the music is undisputedly prog in all its facets, I find that TP goes beyond their reach to render their music, rather impenetrable, confused and dare I say it, obtuse. Their music hovers between Univers Zero, Art Zoyd and Miriodor on the one side, but also takes the weirder sides of National Health, Crimson and Wyatt (Rock Bottom period, but also Cuckooland) on another side and for the rest, the HC/SH/AB connection. The tortured childish-like vocals do not make this music more accessible either, the constant beat/rhythm changes makes it disjointed and hard to accept. There is a rather interesting side to their music, though and most symphonic prog fans who love Anglagard should get a load of this album: at times they sound like the US- RIO equivalent of our beloved Vikings (their heavy use of the mellotrons is constant throughout the album), but somehow, they take the complexity so far that it almost becomes a sort of RIO-esque pastiche of it - as exemplified by the almost-grotesque Organism Studies' first movement. But the Drake/Kerman duo is certainly only of the highlights of the album, and they create a good solid basis for the rest of the group to expand upon. Many times, TP dips into atonal or dissonant digressions that do not always seem necessary, but it is an integral part of Thinking Plague's aesthetics.

What we have here is a very strong album, one that takes a sort of pride of not letting you win it over a bit too easily - you know, like that Foxy Lady acting that it has the choice of pretenders but in fact she is really desperate for you? Yes!!! That much! ;-) And in some is willingly complicating things in order to make her worth your run(t?;-), making you making you deceptively believe that the catch is better than the afore- mentioned chase.

Any way, back to this album (BTW, don't try this album on your foxy conquest, this is too twisted and..obtuse for any chick to get laid by it), Soooo the music, I was saying, will remain potent until you finally have completely digested it, which might take quite a while, (maybe even more than you wished) and you will keep discovering new twists. After that......you know..... that chase was better than that catch after all. Easilmy TP's best album in spite of my remarks.

Yours truly ;-)

PS: If you are a person that loves his Viking symphonic prog, this might be a not so obvious bridge towards the elusive RIO. But be prepared for a change of role, then!

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#89623)
Posted Thursday, September 14, 2006 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Being one of the maximum forces of avantgarde rock nowadays, American ensemble Thinking Plague has been publicly praised by RIO pioneer Chris Cutler himself. Originated in the early 80s by initiative of guitarist-composer Mike Johnson, the band had already released a bunch of LPs and cassettes before getting to this 1998 release "In Extremis". The recodring and producing process was so long and tortuous that many line-up changes occurred in the meantime. Additionally, this band had a privileged seventh member in its line-up at the time: Bob Drake, one of the most notable experimental multi-intrsimnetalists in the current North American scene. Henry Cow and Art Bears are the most recurrent points of reference when describing the influences that esentially helped to shape the nuclear style of Thinking Plague, but you can also notice traces of Zappa (his mots ambitious opuses) and early 80s Univers Zero. Anyway, the HC thing is the most obvious source regarding the intense dynamics of massiev dissonances, extravagant ceaseless turning points for rhythms and motifs, anti-melodic walls of sound and bizarre ornaments: as a sort of contrast and complementation simultaneously, Deborah Perry's singing is very delightful and enchanting, just like teh sound of a mischievous nymph who doesn't totally give up on her internal sense of innocence. The first two songs, which are not too long (they last 4 - 4 ½ minutes), are perfect examples of this weird yet effective mixture of crazy musicianship and angelic singing. Yes, Thinking Plague can manage to create a (relatively) accesible vibe within the unscrutable standards of RIO at its most Dadaist. 'This Weird Mind' lasts 8 minutes and contains more consistent motifs, combining country-like bucolic sections with other creepier passages. 'Les Etudes d'Organism' is an intrumental voyage (including some female humming) that sets an epic course for a succession of aggressive, mysterious, frivolous and free-jazzy passages. This procession of ordained anarchy ultimately leads to a ceremonious ending theme solidly protrayed by guitar textures, brass adornements and synth phrases. The next two songs return to the shorter format: 'Maelstrom' kicks off in an eerie mood that hints to the aquatic substance, while the interlude bear a stormy wall of sound, actually depicting a sort of Maelstrom. 'The Aesthete' is obvioulsy more vivacious, with a predominant air of jazzy colors painted in an unconventional strategy. 'Kingdom Come' occupies the album's final 13 ¾ minutes, with the band determined to explore their vision's darker side like they haven't been in any other previous place of the album. Despite the presence of some playful motifs and the stylish keyboard layers that emerge here and there, the somber passages are the ones that take center stage and define the whole track's unitary essence. The limboesque chorale delivered on mellotron while the rhythm section marriages the battle between sax and guitar at the ending section perfectly portrays the darkness of non-being after the end of time. This is definitely not a celebration of the Apocalypse, but a manifesto of visceral fear for the unknown realms of humankind's unearthly future. No better ending could have made justice to such an intense album as "In Extremis": Thinking Plague is one of the definitive champions of current RIO, no doubt about it. A fellow reviewer started his effort with "Wow!" - I will end it similarly... "Wow!"

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Send comments to Cesar Inca (BETA) | Report this review (#101555)
Posted Monday, December 04, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars CONTENT OF REVIEW UNDER REVISION. TRUST THE RATING!

How best to describe this album? Perhaps I'll just say that it contains many pretentious qualities, and many pompous ones as well, such that you might even say that it contains them in extremis. I'm quite serious here (even if I was just looking for a way to use the album title to describe the album), as this album is just as pretentious as Tales From Topographic Oceans is rumored to be (though I don't really find Tales From Topographic Oceans to be pretentious, just self-indulgent, which then begs the question, what good music isn't self-indulgent? - I don't like Tale From Topographic Oceans, for the record). I usually despise using the word pretentious to describe music (as I just pointed out, self- indulgent usually works much better), because I think that, in truth, pop and rap music's tendencies towards self praise is more pretentious than prog's tendencies towards playing at your skill level (which is what Emerson, Lake, and Palmer and Yes did, among others). And self-indulgent, of course, isn't bad, because all it means is that you're playing music that satisfies you, rather than other people. This results in more musical integrity and fewer "clone" bands. But, anyway, back to this album. This album is self-indulgent (remember, that's a good thing), but it also really is pretentious.

I would almost never use the word pretentious to describe music (unless an band/artist was stealing from another band/artist, which truly is pretentious), but I will use it to describe lyrics, and the lyrics here are as pretentious as they come. They are falsely intelligent, trying to seem philosophical but ending up seeming petty more than anything else. The vocals fit them perfectly, though, I will admit (they sound very similar to those of Bob Drake of 5uu's, so much so that I have often wondered if he was actually singing the male vocal parts). But once we look past the lyrics and vocals (which I might describe as a "minor setback"), we find a core of excellent music. The bass is highly prominent in the mix, really carrying the songs, but the keyboards and guitar really add a lot as well. The only instrument that disappoints me is the drums. There is a nice combinations of short and long songs, giving every prog lover a little bit of something. They keep the songs engaging the entire time, never lapsing into boredom or losing any energy. They are very clearly prog, with plenty of odd time signatures and changes within songs.

In the end, I have to conclude about this album that it, for the most part, just isn't quite my style, though I do enjoy it and find it very good. It has intrigued me enough that I'll probably also try their A History of Madness album, which, from what I've heard, is better. For now, though, this one will serve me just fine, and I'd recommend it to all fans of avant-garde music, especially those interested in the American end of it. This one probably won't ever be one of my favorites, but I do recognize it as a great album. If you don't like avant-garde music, I wouldn't recommend this album to you, because it just wouldn't be worth your time. If you don't know avant-garde music yet, this album isn't a good place to start (Samla Mammas Manna, Secret Chiefs 3, Henry Cow, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and others are all better). Once you are familiar with the genre, however, you probably should venture here, because it is an album worth owning, as evidenced by the multitude of good reviews it has received on this site.

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Send comments to Pnoom! (BETA) | Report this review (#115880)
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars WOW! This is the record that made me suffered! Why? Honestly, this is not an easy stuff for me to digest. It took me, for sure, more than 10 spins! So, you might be wondering with a number of "prog" reviews I have made at this site with various kinds of prog from the simple ones like Muse, Radiohead to the complex ones like Somnambulist, Island, etc. and I still "struggle" with Thinking Plague? Give me a break! How prog am I, actually? Am I prog enough? How prog am I? Well. you can say anything about me but the fact is: this record is very very tough for me to digest! One thing for sure, I was not going to make any review at all for music that I cannot digest - because it's not fair at all for the musicians: how can I make a comments on something that made me confused without wanting to know more?

Let's have a look about this Thinking Plague "In Extremis" album .

I did purchase the CD right after I received an email from one of this site's readers, Shirly (hope you don't mind I make your name disclosed here - but if you do, let me know, I will take it off) sometime ago (November 15, 2005). By the time, I was not aware about this band and because of her good introduction on how the band is like, the following month I got the CD. At first until third spin, I could not understand it and I put it off from my player and stored at my CD shelf. Sometime I spun it again, bu again, it did not click me at all. But I kept trying and it grew on me later .

The music of this album (or probably it applies to other albums of Thinking Plague) is very complex and hard to digest for my ears. It resembles a mixture of Gentle Giant, Yes and ELP, blended together and brought by the band to the new level. As Shirly mentioned it, the music is more than RIO (rock in opposition). Don't expect something "catchy" at all from this album. Most of them are complex stuff with music segments that most people would be hard to enjoy. The more spin I made, the more I could grab the subtleties and it steadily all broken pieces connect together in my ears and my mind until I got "click"

From the opening track "Dead Silence" (4:00), the music has blasted off with weird rhythm section and melody. Is there a melody? It barely no melody, I think. It's just a flow of music with complex textures and subtleties that need to be observed further. The only connection that I could get with this song is its similarity (in style) with the music of of Finneus Gauge or Echolyn in complex compositions. I suddenly recall that during the day in the 70s when I first enjoyed YES "Tales From Topographic Ocean" album, I experienced similar feeling. But I don't know why until these days when I have the mastery to enjoy wide range of prog music, I still find myself getting confused with this album. Similar with my experience with Tales, finally I could accept the music and raise my thumbs on the genius work by Thinking Plague!

My real test case happened when I reached "Les Etudes d'Organism" (14:00) which is basically a complex epic that made me tired at first time, with the music. More spin and more spin, finally I could get the music into my ears and I could enjoy it. This is a brilliant compositions with various styles, various moods and multiple tempo changes and time signatures. It's an excellent composition.

Overall, it's an excellent addition to any prog music collection even though I would not recommend the newbie to jump into this Thinking Plague band wagon. It's too dangerous to enjoy this album without exploring much with other kinds of prog. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

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Send comments to Gatot (BETA) | Report this review (#121012)
Posted Monday, May 07, 2007 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars 4.5 stars. I really enjoyed this album a lot. Even the album cover is extremely well done. The music reminded me of both PRESENT and UNIVERS ZERO mostly, with other references popping up here and there. The female vocals are sweet and child-like, yet seem to fit the dark, dissonant music perfectly.I was surprised mind you when I first heard her sing. Bob Drake does sing on one track as well. Actually there are a host of guest musicians and instruments used on this album. This is a real treat.

"Dead Silence" is a melodic song that has nothing to do with the Avant-garde actually. Synths, accordian and those innocent vocals lead the way. "Behold The Man" is an uptempo and melodic tune. It opens with guitar and female vocals before it becomes awash in different sounds. This is amazing. "This Weird Wind" is like the Bob Drake show. He sings and plays bass and violin on this one. It starts slowly and sadly before kicking in with some great bass. The tempo continues to change. Some acoustic guitar from Mike Johnson on this YES sounding tune. "Les Etudes D'Organism" has Bob back on bass and violin. It opens with heavy, dissonant sounds. Different sounds come and go. It picks up speed 3 1/2 minutes in as we get a carnival-like atmosphere. It turns dark and heavy again before 8 minutes with what sounds like mellotron. Angular guitar 10 minutes in with piano melodies to follow.

"Maelstrom" features reserved female vocals with acoustic guitar melodies. The sound increases as electric guitar and violin arrive 1 1/2 minutes in. "The Aesthete" has a heavy sound of bass and double bass with female vocals. I really like the passage 3 1/2 minutes in, and check out the great guitar that follows it up. "Kingdom Come" features mellotron on and off throughout the song. More female vocals and angular guitar. This begins dark and melancholic. This is great ! Mellotron 6 minutes in with more angular guitar after 7 minutes. Vocals are back. There is a dramatic and tense passage 9 1/2 minutes in followed by a calm atmosphere with faint dissonant sax to the end of the song and album.

This would be the perfect record to check out the Rio / Avant genre with. A dark and melodic beauty.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#143425)
Posted Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars Well ,here again.

This album is an excellent example of the surviving of the classic RIO and canterbury prog rock.

Very good musicians(in the classical vituos line) ,with and old style female vocals..very clear and shining and participating as another more instrument,very versatil.

Melodies sometimes remind me the best Henry Cow albums,sometimes remind me the best Univers Zero albums.

The songs with mostly vocals arrengements are nearer canterbury scene,the other may be nearer the rock in oppsition scene

Nice arrengements.

I can,t put to it five stars because i,m more in the symphonic rock line ,but i can,t deny their quality.So i think that maybe 4,5 stars .

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Send comments to robbob (BETA) | Report this review (#207778)
Posted Thursday, March 19, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars Let me first warn you that Thinking Plague's _In This Life_ is one of my desert island discs (presuming there's an AC outlet or an unlimited source of AA batteries on the island of course).

Something like 8 years after _In This Life_ came out, everybody who was waiting for a follow-up had more or less given up. Every year or so, somebody would tell me that they'd heard from someone that Mike Johnson was almost through with a new Thinking Plague album. Well what do you know, suddenly in 1998 here it was, and it was a masterpiece.

_In This Life_ was attractive to many people because it was stylistically much like the best RIO bands, but without the brittleness and the tendency for long improvised jams for short wave radio and prepared shopping cart. Don't get me wrong, the short wave radio and prepared shopping cart were there, but woven into really engaging musical structures deliberately and carefully composed. And it also rocked hard. In fact, Mike Johnson's ability to come up with intense, sometimes brain-shattering sounds and textures and orchestrate them so compellingly makes him, to me, the Beethoven of RIO.

_In Extremis_ is, if anything, more elaborately constructed than _In This Life_ and seems more of an integrated project than the somewhat "assembled" _In This Life_. That's amazing in that _In Extremis_ was recorded over such a long period of time. The lyrics seem to deal for the most part with disgust at the state of things and the attempt to escape all of it. It comes off like the gesticulations of a mad prophet who's not quite sure of his prophesies. The first song, "Dead Silence" immediately introduces the voice of Deborah Perry. She has very much the same range as the band's previous singer, Suzanne Lewis, but her delivery is more precise and even more emotionally detached, which many times makes a thrilling contrast to the whirlwind of sound she's embedded in. She often gives the impression of a boy soprano.

Johnson avoids pure major and minor triads...er...like the plague. In fact, this album offers plenty of compelling evidence that atonal chord structures can have very clear, audible comprehensible musical functions for the non-theoretically-minded. The music is constantly changing metrically, harmonically and texturally. As I remarked, he has a huge pallette to work with and he doesn't stick to one thing for long. That's not to say everything is a chaotic string of episodes. Cohesiveness is achieved through rampant development of small harmonic and rhythmic kernels. What this means is that the first couple listens can be a little bewildering. But as in the best classical music, each listen reveals new details and layers of musical correspondences. Each listen takes you deeper and deeper in. In the face of all this theoretical stuff, this album rocks.

Fans of _In This Life_'s "Organism" will be interested in track 4, "Les Etudes d'Organism," a free fantasy on themes from that tune. Interestingly, a couple minutes in the middle of this song evoke the same kind of underworld carnival atmosphere that people familiar with Mr. Bungle's _Disco Volante_ will recognize. It's the only part of the album that I never quite came to terms with. It's followed however, by one of the album's most beautiful moments, a sublime section of heartbreaking guitar melody over a brooding string bed in 7/4.

Bob Drake sings and wrote the lyrics to "This Weird Wind," my favorite track (musically at least) at the moment.

Another of my favorite moments is the beginning of the last track "Kingdom Come" which starts with a mindblowing bit of tone painting, as a musical tornado comes and picks up the singer's character, who shrieks in ecstasy "As my body rises, I understand this is paradise!"

As for the playing of individual members. Well, they're all hot. But they're mostly doing material that's subservient to the compositions. Mike Johnson squeezes every kind of sound out of whatever guitar he happens to be playing, choking total anguish out of it at one moment, soaring above the atmosphere in the next. Production quality is magnificent.

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Send comments to kurtrongey (BETA) | Report this review (#240790)
Posted Monday, September 21, 2009 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Inner music, though sweet, will never be complete" (from 'the Aesthete')

Maybe, but its pretty close! On the 4th album by the band, that considered by many as a milestone of RIO, and a groundbreaking progressive rock album.

Virtuosity is the name of the game here: virtuosity in the playing, in the singing, the compositions... here Thinking Plague is no longer the somewhat 'naïve' band from the 80's. It sounds more like a supergroup, a RIO monster, which unite the mobile forces from the American RIO scene. Join to Mike Johnson, former, guitarist and composer, are 'heroes' Dave Kerman on drums, and Bob Drake on sound and other things. (Drake also participated in early Plague, but sound here more powered and skilful). Both have already made their first steps and experiments, built their unique language and went further on, sometimes collaborating, and made some key albums of the scene. Newer faces at the time are Deborah Perry, that gain so many glows and compliments all over for her vocals, and rightly so, and Dave Willey who shares the bass duties with Bob Drake and provide the folkie touch when required, by his wonderful accordion. Along with TP older members Mark Harris on woodwinds, and Shane Hotle on keyboards, they altogether form a very strong and virtuoso band.

You can find everything here: humorous sections along with very somber sections, recalls for concrete music, atonal or almost atonal melodies, some tonal, catchy melodies and guitar riffs, very complex counterpoints, not to mention the time signatures, and I assume this is just a partial inventory.

Maybe as a result to this endless diversity, the atmosphere most of the time is frantic. If you happened not to be fully concentrated in the music, you'll probably find yourself in a completely different sonic environment, not knowing actually how you got there. This will be clarified only after numerous listening. (More than just 'numerous' actually).

I know, I know. Reading this you can think of a big mess now. Myself, I check such albums from time to time, and what I find sound to my ears as simply mess. Well, this is not the case here. The materials and ideas are organized and inspite of the angular transitions, there is a sense and inner logic in all of the 7 great compositions, which make out this album. The contents are structured, albeit it is done in unique ways, and the separation between the various compositions is well defined. The compositions are varied from each other, let alone the style diversity on each composition on its own. While each composition is a standalone one, there is an overall flow over the album, and path through many human feelings and moods. The bouncy start of the opener 'Dead silence' turns at last to the darkness and frightfulness of the closer 'Kingdome come'.

Since I mentioned 'Kingdom come'... Well, if Berlioz would write his 'Fantastic symphony', part 5 ('dream about the witches') nowadays, it might sound similar... Gregorian chant included. (around 12:45''). A relatively simple rhythm, 'drums of death', and one constant note are carrying this whole composition. Atonal melodies come and go on solemn and somber sections, finally burst out into a bombastic atonal riff. Fragments of that riff and from the opening melody could be heard all the way through, in a very wise instrumentation and counterpoint. This overwhelming composition is closed by two minutes interplay between drums and saxes, which completely takes you away... is it paradise? I'm not sure at all. It is impressive, it's strong, it is a programatic and descriptive music done in the best way.

One thing that nevertheless takes a little down for me is the sound and production. I'll mention that I'm in a very small minority here; most of the 'community' finds the sound and production made by Bob Drake as spectacular, with a crucial contribution to the final result. But for me, everything sound way over compressed. Indeed you can focus on every instrument quite easily, and there's quite a lot, but such things got its own cost. Most of the instruments sound choked and flat, vocals included. And the bass sound many times way too frontal, which takes off for many other instruments.

For anyone who feels like me (if there is one), I strongly recommend you to listen to the live versions on most of the album, in 'Upon both' live album. Along with the entire album, you'll get another perspective on the compositions.

But this fault IMO does not influence the final estimation. This is an essential listening for every proghead, not just RIO enthusiasts. This is one of the few albums that go further beyond its genre definitions and limitation. I would suggest listening to this at list once. If you don't feel you will find time and energies to 'encode' everything, try to focus on the more accessible compositions, 'This weird wind' (the YES style one) and 'Les etudes' (with the amusing circus section in the middle). And than again, this is a masterpiece of RIO, a masterpiece of modern prog, and a masterpiece of progressive rock. To make a long story short, this is a masterpiece. Five stars. Like peanuts.

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Send comments to ShW1 (BETA) | Report this review (#279531)
Posted Tuesday, April 27, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars A classic 90's R.I.O album and the first album of that type of music I ever listened to. Rarely complexity has been so accessible. The complexity is here to serve the songs and not the contrary. The first two tracks both around 4 minute despite still being complex could almost be broadcasted on commercial radio (almost I wrote:-) without listener calling the station asking what's happening. The singer Deborah Perris has a great and attractive voice which I think explain in parts the accessibility of the album. The track "Les Etudes d'Orgasm" is 14 minutes of excitement, the music going to the craziest circus music I ever heard. The last track is the darkest of the album and probably the least accessible "Kingdom Come" with a atmospheric ending with dissonant sax All the tracks are at least good and some really good: "Les Etudes d'Orgasm", "This Weird Wind", "Dead Silence". If you don't know R.I.O.and looking for an album to start with; this is the one.

4 stars: Excellent addition to any R.I.O or general prog music collection

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Send comments to Theriver (BETA) | Report this review (#351922)
Posted Monday, December 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars Thinking plague's In Extermis is one of the most decisive albums in the Prog-Rock genre since the end of the 70s. The album is made of seven tracks, which are actually in some strange way a little melodic. Although the lyrics aren't great, it's not hard to understand that the important part in the album is the music, and the music is really good, made of a mixture between rock, jazz, modern classical music and avant- garde. It's hard to describe it but it's something like Magma meets Yes, when you can make similarities, most of the time they sound different from anything someone has heard of.

There are 4 things that make this album so unique and a must-listen to. The first one is the compositions, which are rich with layers and thought; each role of each instrument is bold, yet mixing with the music. The second one is the mixing, which is done perfectly. The third one is the playing by the musicians, which is played great. The last one is the singing, which adds a lot to the album.

Overall, this is maybe the best album to introduce someone to RIO, the album isn't too hard, but still shows what so great about the RIO.

5 out of 5

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Send comments to yosimoshe (BETA) | Report this review (#636555)
Posted Monday, February 20, 2012 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Re-emerging after years of hiatus, Thinking Plague burst forth on In Extremis with their own brand of avant-prog. Overall the impression I have is of the work of the likes of late-period Henry Cow and early Samla Mammas Manna mashed up together with a somewhat greater emphasis on lush synthesiser textures than either band exhibited, and with occasional spoken word snippets slipped in reminiscent of some of Frank Zappa's work (think Lather or We're Only In It For the Money). Not afraid to get melodic and accessible on occasion when the music demands it - unlike some other avant bands who insist on weirdness for the sake of weirdness at all times - Thinking Plague seem to be an interesting outfit and In Extremis feels like a good place to start exploring their work.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#790796)
Posted Thursday, July 19, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars 1. "Dead Silence" (4:03) The first two and a half minutes of this song sound as if they've done a modernized cover of KATE BUSH's "Sat in Your Lap;" the final ninety seconds sound more like KING CRIMSON Discipline-era. (8/10)

2. "Behold the Man" (4:26) is rife with strings of scales runs performed by instrument after instrument while Deborah Perry sings melodically (and sometimes not so melodically) over and within. Awesomely conceived! Again the TONY LEVIN/King Crimson influences are obvious--as are those of PHILLIP GLASS. I really love listening to this song--and it does not grate against me as some of TP's more dissonant songs can. (10/10)

3. "This Weird Wind" (8:03) comes across as some kind of anthemic YES-monster for the first ninety seconds. Then a strange JOHN CALE-like lull and pounce section begins (awesome drums sound!) The keyboard work beginning at 2:20 is awesome--as is the acoustic guitar work that follows. A JON ANDERSON-like male voice presents in that same third minute. The ensuing two-minutes of music continues to build and morph like a condensed, abrasive STEVE HOWE/JON ANDERSON composition--even down to the heavily treated voices and psychedelic section in the sixth minute. 5:45 brings us back to the more straightforward YES style and sounds. Great final minute! Really an outstanding exercise on Yesorcism! YES would/should be proud! (10/10)

4. "Les études d'organism" begins as if one had awakened suddenly on a ocean-going vessel during a heavy storm. Then the ensuing wobbly walk around below-decks, trying to keep balanced, while trying to pursue some answers: Is this just a dream or really a dream within a dream? At 2:25 the zoo animals have burst into the ship's hallways! 2:54 you find a lounge in which people are out of it. Back into the hallways, running around the perimeter of the ship--Carnival Lines, of course! 4:30 brings us to some higher functioning, for a moment, before the circus engulfs you again. 5:17 begins the organized entertainment: a bike-rider standing on his seat, doing waterless-water jokes from his hat while riding in a circle. The clowns are doing their best to attract you attention, as are the show girls. Horses riding around the circle with fast-stepping acrobats doing their jumps and flips to and from animal. At 7:50 arrives the elephant, lumbering, plodding, a bit unsteady on the sea-rolling ship, a very good natured, patient elephant, performing by rote all the while looking out into the audience for its saviour. Tensions mount as the elephant stands on its hind legs: immense above the crowd. At 10:25 is seems as if all of a sudden time begins to stand still; you become aware of someone running in from the stormy outside screaming "I'm here! Sophie, I'm here!" The disciplined flow of the circus collapses, the elephant turns and bolts out the door with the young man--sheering the doors from their hinges as it does--revealing the calm, sunny skies outside--your view from your portal window as you awaken from a long night's sleep. (9/10)

5. "Maelstrom" (3:35) begins quite malevolently, dark and heavy, until at 0:45 the vocal harmonizes with some positive chords--obviously there is hope. Return to a quieter, more controlled form of trepidation. The final minute is complete with the all-out struggles and inevitable resignation of the end. Interesting song. (9/10)

6. "The Aesthete" (4:39) or "the me song," sounds like a JANE SIBERRY masterpiece, such a tongue-in-cheek lyric. The steady, strong drums move us forward while the guitars, bass, accordian, and horns try to move us every which way but forward. But when the drums disappear, what then? We are left to float, left to our own devices, left alone. Me, alone. Not really such a scary prospect, if only our heart keeps beating. (9/10)

7. "Kingdom Come" (13:45) YES and KING CRIMSON are what come to mind when listening to this extended piece. A kind of "Gates of the Delirius Red Nightmare," if you will. (9/10)

An collection of uniquely conceived and unusually rendered songs--not one's typical pop or smooth jazz melodies. Avant garde. Out of this world! But stunningly engaging and starkly beautiful! An album I go back to over and over because of the new and unusual--and often excitingly disturbing and unnerving--emotions and imagery evoked herein. This is not abrasive or as are much of the experimental/post, technical or doom metal music I encounter. This is unsettling in a way that is, I believe, to provoke a growth response. If you really want to see music/rock/progressive rock 'progress' then this album is essential for you.

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Send comments to BrufordFreak (BETA) | Report this review (#894284)
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2013 | Review Permalink

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