In some ways, Hypothetical is the most important album in the Threshold catalog. Unlike the albums that followed it, the songs on Hypthetical are the result of all band members contributing to the songwriting process and adding their own touch. It is diverse, progressive, melodic, and atmospheric at the same time -- with some of the finest vocal harmonies you will ever hear in progressive metal.
After Clone, their first album with Mac on vocals, Threshold established their identity and put out their most cohesive body of work. The production is sublime, with great clarity on the instrumentation and tons of nuance for the attentive listener. Crunchy guitar work dominates pretty much every tune, plowing through complex passages underscored by Richard West's trademark synth lines. West is right up there with Kevin Moore in my books. He infuses the songs with his unmistakable atmospheric signature and keeps everything in balance. The blazing guitars and thudding rhythmic anchor are constantly capped by his clever synth notes, never sacrificing songwriting for pyrotechnics. His tone selection ranges from vintage sounds to modern, Andromeda-like futuristic elements, and his unison solos are breathtaking, more so due to their note choice rather than their flashiness.
Unlike many of their counterparts, Threshold perfectly counterveils dexterous instrumental wizardy with gripping melodic harmonies and Mac's powerful vocalizations. Karl Groom's lead work on songs like "Light and Space" and "Oceanbound" are among his finest as is the 80s-like sweet lead of "Keep My Head," yet they are cleverly placed in the songs so as not to take away from Johanne James' drum slam and Jon Jeary's excellent bass parts. This is Jeary's final work with the band. His solo spot on "Long Way Home" carries the whole piece and works perfectly to contrast the smooth piano theme as well as the crushing main riff planted into mix.
Though Psychedelicatessen is still a personal favourite and their final album with Mac, Dead Reckoning, their pinnacle, I consider Hypothetical their most complete piece of work that encapsulates the current Threshold sound. Also, the album boasts two of their best songs ever. Both at over 10 minutes, "The Ravages of Time" and "Narcissus" remain unmatched to this day. The songs are both unconventionally structured as they are informed by myriad soundscapes, be it tense silences, brief yet addictive piano breaks, sweeping guitar and keyboard solos, and Mac's otherworldly choruses (as well as prechoruses). The man's voice is a cross between a metallic Phil Collins and Jon Anderson, but still this comparison does not do it justice. His multiple vocal parts on both tunes would put any other prog band to shame. (He passed away a few days ago and I have been playing all the albums in his memory.)
Many have said Threshold have expanded on the foundation they built with Hypothetical, and while that's a fair assessment, they never quite recaptured the same intensity again. This is an essential album for any progressive metal fan.
- Light and Space
- Turn on Tune in
- The Ravages of Time
- Sheltering Sky
- Long Way Home
- Keep My Head