Threshold is arguably UK's finest progressive metal band. They have released many studio albums, concert discs, and fan club-only material in their long career with lots of different members. Now, their former label Inside Out has put out a double disc compilation documenting songs from all eras of the band, with a few radio edits included.
For starters, no best-of compilation is good enough to fully represent a progressive band's career. Each one of their albums is best enjoyed in its original context. However, if you've never heard any of their CD's and are uncertain as to which one to pick up first, then The Ravages of Time might be a good starting point.
The compilation is divided into two parts. CD1 is subtitled The Latter Years and contains songs from their last four releases: Dead Reckoning (2007), Subsurface (2004), Critical Mass (2002), and Hypothetical (2001). All of the songs feature Mac on vocals (who left the band a few months ago). The radio edit versions of "Slipstream" and "Pilot in the Sky of Dreama", from their most recent album Dead Reckoning, both sound rather incomplete compared to their epic-size original lengths. In the album version of "Slipstream", Dan Swano's brutal death vocals work a lot more effectively when contrasted by Mac's hugely melodic chorus. However, the production and drum sound are both killer. Similarly, "Pilot in the Sky of Dreams", at less than four minutes, sounds quite ordinary in its condensed format. Both of these tracks are actually monsters on the Dead Reckoning album, so be sure to give the original versions a listen if you can.
Still, after playing the disc through several times, I was quite pleased by the seamless flow of the pieces, thanks to the solid mastering done. None of the songs have been remastered on these discs, but there are some minor changes I've noticed. Besides the radio edits, the atmospheric intro of "Light and Space" has been cut out, but the acoustic intro and lofty keyboard work along with the wonderful run-out solo still make this one a terrific song.
Also, the other Hypothetical tune, "The Ravages of Time", once again reminded me how powerful Threshold were when they used to write songs collectively. Hypothetical is the only album where pretty much every member contributed to the songwriting, and the result is nothing short of mesmerizing. It could be due to the mastering, but the effect on John Jeary's vocal parts seems to have been enhanced and there seems to be a cool looped part added to the end of the song. This is without doubt one of the greatest songs Threshold have ever penned. The dismal, cold bass guitar, Mac's unusually dark vocal style, the hyponotic chorus, and the ever-shifting dynamics render this track a masterpiece. If you've never heard any Mac-era album, start with Hypothetical.
On the heavier front, the two Critical Mass numbers, "Falling Away" with its expansive arrangement and Moore-like sound effects; and the bass-driven onslaught of "Fragmentation", should please fans of heavy progressive metal. "Mission Profile" from Subsurface boasts a catchy intro with its punchy guitars and melodic soloing whilst "The Art of Reason" is proof that Karl Groom and Richard West were able to write epics without the creative input of John Jeary. Once again, Johanne James' drum sound should make many a band jealous.
CD2 is called The Former Years and contains nine songs from the band's first four albums: Clone (1998), Extinct Instinct (1997), Psychedelicatessen (1994), and Wounded Land (1993). Clone is represented with the thematically engaging "The Latent Gene" whose smooth guitar solo is shiver-inducing. "Voyager II", on the other hand, is a testimony to Mac's unmatched vocal ability as well as Richard West's head-spinningly agile synth work.
By many considered Threshold's best epic, "Eat the Unicorn" is a staggering composition from their most progressive release, Extinct Instinct. A piece which doesn't depend on heavy use of choruses a la the Mac-era material, it sees the band blending modern soundscapes with vintage keyboard exercises in a neatly arranged framework. "The Whispering" further solidifies the broad nature of the album, as it even sees Groom venturing into blues-tinged guitar playing in the finale.
The interesting concept album Wounded Land has two tracks on this compilation: the huge epic "Sanity's End" punctuated by solid guitar work and fierce synth layering, and "Consume to Live", driven entirly by thumping bass guitar and soaring vocals courtesy of Damian Wilson.
A personal favourite, Psychedelicatessen stands out on this best-of because of the deeply varying songwriting structures. Thematically dealing with the human psyche, "A Tension of Souls" is a crushing song with a very dark tone and moving vocals by Glynn Morgan. Though Morgan is neither as operatic as Wilson or melodic as Mac, his honest delivery is soul-piercing, especially when blended with the textural guitar harmonies. The unison solo here is simply fantastic. "Innocent" is perhaps the only track in which either Groom or West had no input, as it was written entirely by Glynn Morgan. Dark and creepy, this is the song that demonstrates how his vocals and lyrics can destroy the listener.
Threshold have put out lots of different albums, from the enviromentally themed Wounded Land to the sci-fi-based Clone, to the somewhat politically charged Subsurface to the dark Pyschedelicatessen or the unusually heavy Critical Mass, not to mention the superb work of Hypothetical or their most recent output Dead Reckoning. After listening to this compilation, you can decide where to begin.
The cover art by Thomas Ewerhard was originally intended to be the artwork of Dead Reckoning when the band were planning to title it Pilot in the Sky of Dreams, and honestly I like this one much better. The packaging is neat; it contains a cool write-up by Trevor Raggatt, some pictures, and lyrics.
Disc 1: The Latter Years
- Slipstream (radio edit)
- Light and Space (edit)
- Mission Profile
- Falling Away
- The Ravages of Time
- Pressure (radio edit)
- The Art of Reason
- Pilot In The Sky of Dreams (radio edit)
Disc 2: The Former Years
- The Latent Gene
- A Tension of Souls
- Eat the Unicorn
- Consume to Live
- Exposed (radio edit)
- Sanity's End
- The Whispering
- Voyager II