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Spock's Beard - Beware of Darkness CD (album) cover


Spock's Beard


Symphonic Prog

3.68 | 515 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars As a big fan of history in general, watching and listening to a band growing, developing and evolving record by record is fascinating. Spock's Beard is an excellent example of adaptation and evolution.

Right away, "Beware of Darkness" sounds much crisper, much sharper. The quality is much better. The lyrics are a bit iffy songwriting wise, but the instrumentation is spot on. "Thoughts" is right there in the same wheelhouse. The carnival house 'chorus' is kinda cool, though. It gives the song it's own USP. Even the scattered chord blotches scattered throughout the piece add to the uniqueness of it, making it one of my favorites of this album.

Strangely, though, where the songwriting on "Beware of Darkness" is fairly average, "The Doorway" is the perfect song to weave lyrical majesty over, and Neal Morse does just that. The melodies are perfect, it's not too soft, it's not too harsh, it's a well balanced track. Funny however, though, up to this point that Spock is at it's lyrical, songwriting best when composing longer songs, as opposed to shorter songs. Just something to think about for future reference.

"Chatauqua" is a nice, quick little guitar ballad that sounds very Trans-Siberian-esque in its playing. "Walking On The Wind" is not like that. At all. In fact, the keys sound very ELP from the get-go, perhaps because this is the debut of famed keyboardist Ryu Okumoto. The composition is much more balanced, and the songwriting is improved once again as well. In fact, I can tell that the lengthy tracks on this album are much more balanced, but also better lyrically. It's as almost if Alan and Neal Morse realized that, on shorter tracks (9-11 minutes as opposed to the 23-minute "The Water") that songwriting and lyricism takes center stage over quick changes and sudden displays of musician ship that peppered much of "The Light".

Now, is that a bad thing? Depends. Everyone is going to have their own opinion over this, and has for the past 20 or so years. Some people prefer Neal's songwriting, others prefer the magic made by the instruments these men wield. I, for one, prefer the latter over the former (which is why I'm one of few who prefer the post-Neal Morse Spock albums), but I have no problem with Neal's voice or songwriting. It's just that even with these great, early songs, you can sense a conflict between the songwriting and the composition. Perhaps even in 1997, the wisest prog fan could sense Neal Morse's departure from the Beard, even then?

Yet, we come to "Waste Away", a perfect 90's radio song that's catchy, acoustic-al, Neal's pipes get a center stage showing, and it's a song that's just cool. No, it's not very proggy, but it's a radical departure from "Beware of Darkness" which is only 20 seconds shorter. Here I am, bashing Spock for not being able to be good songwriters for short songs, and yet "Waste Away" completely destroys those notions. So, what do we make of this album?

Perhaps we need to listen to the closer and headliner, "Time Has Come", to get a clearer picture. The intro, much like any Spock epic, is perfect. The atmosphere it sets is perfect, the emotion is there.

And yet, 2 minutes in, the music stops, a guitar comes in and Neal Morse puts on his best Nirvana impression.

It's not bad, but it's just not clean, the transition just isn't smooth. Instead of fading out and in to the guitar, it abruptly cuts out. It just sounds pasted together, much like "Go The Way You Go". Once it's developed, though, the grungy first verse sounds cool. The lyrics definitely fit the mood and attitude. It's just the way it starts that just leaves me feeling confused. The transition out of the grunge phrase is nice and the song continues nicely to the halfway point about 7 minutes in.

Once the fade out and and the synths re-emerge, though, it sounds like a completely different song. The hardcore grunge of the first half is gone, and the hectic, stop-and-turn- on-a-dime routine of "The Light" is back, and there's no reference of the first half at all. Now, obviously, this isn't classical music. There's no recapitulation of the main theme like in a sonata, but it still feels like they recorded the first 7 minutes one day, and then recorded the next 8 minutes some two weeks later and decided to squish them together to create one long song because they haven't recorded an epic on this album similar to "The Light" or "The Water". Neal's grungy voice tries to make a reappearance at the end, but it just doesn't have the same effect as the first time. It just doesn't work.

VERDICT: Spock fan's will surely love this record, but it's not without its faults. "The Doorway" and "Walking On The Wind" are the two big standouts. "Time Has Come" isn't bad, but it's just one of many examples throughout the album where the band is trying to progress musically rather than just technically. Yet there are still songwriting pitfalls, quality issues, and just flat-out question marks in general.

So, really, Spock's sophomore album isn't as good as the first, but its got sparks of future Spock hidden in its genes. It's a transitional album. For the better or for the worse? That's up for you to decide.

Top Tracks: The Doorway, Walking On The Wind, Waste Away

Wicket | 3/5 |


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