By ripping pages from the Enchant, Tiles, Rush and Dream Theater songbooks, Hourglass – a five-piece tour de force out of Provo, Utah – have crafted a wholly engrossing progressive-metal album. Subconscious, the band's third self-released disc, contains just five tracks spanning nearly 80 minutes of well-paced music, alternating between three epics and two four-and-a-half-minute songs. Amidst golden production (although new singer Cody Walker's vocals do tend to get lost in the mix sometimes) and ambitious songwriting that shows no fear, you can hear the hunger of a band on the verge of something huge.
Subconscious opens with the 17-and-a-half-minute scorcher "The Hammer's Strike," on which Walker doesn't even make his entrance until almost the song's four-minute mark. There's plenty of time for guitarist Brick Williams to riff, drummer John Dunston and bassist Clark Woolstenhulme to groove and keyboard player Eric Robertson to shine. The next song, the acoustic-based midtempo "Altered State," relies on Walker's organic-yet-soaring voice and a consistent melody, while the three-part "Mists of Darkness" unveils an atmospheric edge to the Hourglass sound and leaves behind traces of Jethro Tull and Magellan. "Thread the Needle" is the album's weakest song, but the 32-minute finale makes up for it. "Exit Wounds" explores the personal tragedy of war. Recounting the chilling story of a father slain in battle and the subsequent pain his family endures, Hourglass presents various viewpoints via seven sections with titles like "The Soldier," "The Unbeliever," "Daddy's Little Girl" and "Widowed." Forboding military drums pound in and out of these movements, and the serrated lyrics bite deep: "The point of ruin so near/For the child he held so dear/Can a girl so young survive the loss?/Can her will rise up and bear this cross?/Or for her is all life's meaning lost?" It's heart-breaking (and head-banging) stuff that in the hands of a lesser band might have come off maudlin or contrived. Instead, "Exit Wounds" could haunt you for days.
Despite its length, Subconscious doesn't sound bloated, and the album seldom wavers. It is, without question, one of the strongest prog-metal records released by an American band this year. The industry's leading labels should be sharpening their pens, while the rest of us should just go ahead and file this one with other genre classics.
1) The Hammer's Strike (17:33)
2) Altered State (4:43)
3) Mists of Darkness (20:09)
4) Thread the Needle (4:34)
5) Exit Wounds (32:27)
Total Time: 79:31