Thinking Plague has always been one of those bands that are an acquired taste. Their brand of progressive rock owes more to Frank Zappa, King Crimson, Henry Cow, and Gentle Giant than the more symphonic groups, as the band has a very angular, avant-garde approach that is high on quirky, complex arrangements. A History of Madness marks the bands first new studio work since 1998's In Extremis, and sees them veering a bit from the more aggressive, electric style that appeared on that album.
Not that this is a quiet CD by any means, but Thinking Plague go for more atmospheric & acoustic moments on the 12 tracks included here. "Blown Apart", which kicks off the CD, is probably most representative of the Thinking Plague style, with repetitive, dissonant keyboards, jagged guitar lines, and Deborah Perry's wispy vocals. "Consulamentum" is an odd song with Perry's spoken word vocal over brooding keyboards from Matt Mitchell, while guitarist Mike Johnson adds some nice textures to the haunting "Rapture of the Deep." His Fripp-ian electric licks on "Our Way of Life and War on Terra" add a nice contrast to Mark Harris' saxophone flights on this jazzy yet ominous piece. Chamber rock meets folk on the intriguing "The Underground Stream", which features some nice acoustic guitar picking, piano, and reeds, while the band goes for a strong Zappa -meets-Anglagard flavor on the song "Lux Lucet", one of the highlights of the CD and the longest song on the album at just over 9 minutes. As on most Thinking Plague releases, there are numerous short pieces that serve as seques to the longer tracks, some coming across as filler but usually they serve to highlight a brief instrumental from one of the band members.
Perhaps not as strong overall as In Extremis, A History of Madness still is an enjoyable slice of the avant-garde as only Thinking Plague can create.