Thinking Plague


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Thinking Plague In Extremis album cover
4.31 | 126 ratings | 22 reviews | 45% 5 stars

Essential: a masterpiece of
progressive rock music

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Studio Album, released in 1998

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Dead Silence (4:00)
2. Behold the Man (4:23)
3. This Weird Wind (8:02)
4. Les Etudes d'Organism (14:00)
5. Maelstrom (3:32)
6. The Aesthete (4:35)
7. Kingdom Come (13:46)

Total Time: 52:31


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Music tabs (tablatures)

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Line-up / Musicians

- Mike Johnson / electric, acoustic nylon string, 12-string, and Lap steel guitars, synth, computer sequencing
- David Kerman / drums, percussion
- Mark Harris / Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Baritone saxes, clarinet, flute, bass clarinet
- Deborah Perry / voice
- Dave Willey / bass guitar, accordian
- Shane Hotle / piano, synth, Mellotron
- Bob Drake / bass guitar, voice, violin, electric piano, banjo
- Kirk Jameson / bass
- Kim Marsh / piano, synthesizers
- Sanjay Kumar / synthesizers
- Scott Brazieal / piano, synthesizers
- Mark Fuller / drums
- Katie Cox / violins
- Mike Fitzmaurice / double-bass, Erhu
- Rick Benjamin / trombone

Releases information

Cuneiform (rune 113)

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In ExtremisIn Extremis
Alliance 1998
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THINKING PLAGUE In Extremis ratings distribution

(126 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(45%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(29%)
Good, but non-essential (15%)
Collectors/fans only (7%)
Poor. Only for completionists (4%)

THINKING PLAGUE In Extremis reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by Greger
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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Review by Steve Hegede
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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Review by 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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Review by Sean Trane
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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Review by 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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Review by 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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Review by Mellotron Storm
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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Review by Warthur
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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Latest members reviews

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 perf ... (read more)

Report this review (#894284) | Posted by BrufordFreak | Tuesday, January 15, 2013 | Review Permanlink

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 t ... (read more)

Report this review (#636555) | Posted by yosimoshe | Monday, February 20, 2012 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#351922) | Posted by Theriver | Monday, December 13, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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 playi ... (read more)

Report this review (#279531) | Posted by ShW1 | Tuesday, April 27, 2010 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#240790) | Posted by kurtrongey | Monday, September 21, 2009 | Review Permanlink

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. Melodi ... (read more)

Report this review (#207778) | Posted by robbob | Thursday, March 19, 2009 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#115880) | Posted by Pnoom! | Wednesday, March 21, 2007 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#85779) | Posted by SolariS | Friday, August 04, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 a ... (read more)

Report this review (#79460) | Posted by Cometa Rossa | Friday, May 26, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 righ ... (read more)

Report this review (#73250) | Posted by proger | Monday, March 27, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 ( ... (read more)

Report this review (#70322) | Posted by | Thursday, February 23, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 th ... (read more)

Report this review (#69940) | Posted by Pafnutij | Sunday, February 19, 2006 | Review Permanlink

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 d ... (read more)

Report this review (#56035) | Posted by RoyalJelly | Saturday, November 12, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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 ... (read more)

Report this review (#37702) | Posted by | Sunday, June 26, 2005 | Review Permanlink

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