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Threshold: Subsurface

" Subsurface is not a concept album but it does have an underlying theme. This album is about the politics of power and it explores the choices that both the controlling powers and the controlled people have to make, the consequences of those choices, and how ultimately we are all collectively responsible for our own destiny. "

Eleven years after bursting on to the scene with the now classic Wounded Land , Karl Groom and Co. return to confirm the adage that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Sure, they tweaked the formula a bit over the years, and musicians (mostly drummers and vocalists) have come and gone, but the line-up now seems to have gelled and the results have been stellar album after stellar album. Just when you thought this band had reached it's peak and might even have been on the decline, Subsurface reestablishes Threshold as arguably the force to be reckoned with in the progressive metal scene.

The die-hard fan will hear a difference between this disc and the previous two ( Critical Mass (2002) and Hypothetical (2001) ). Mr Groom seems to have toned down the production a bit, allowing the band's power to shine through clearer than it has in years. Richard West (keyboards) seems more present than ever as he's not lost in the mix during the choruses or the bridges, and is allowed to soar during many of the instrumental passages. Vocal harmonies seem to be more present than in the past as well , giving the finished product a much lusher sound. Some things haven't changed though. Karl Groom still lays down some of the catchiest and tastiest riffs in the biz and Johanne James still provides some of the best bottom end heard anywhere.

Formulaic ? You bet it is! But , as stated above, when you've got the recipe right, there's no need to reinvent yourself. Once you've established yourself as the finest pizzeria in the neighbourhood and people can't stop raving about your crust and your sauce, you need only experiment with the toppings to create one masterpiece after another. This latest slice by Threshold has me shouting Mamma Mia ! .

Track Listing:

  1. Mission Profile (8:15)
  2. Ground Control (7:10)
  3. Opium (6:47)
  4. Stop Dead (4:18)
  5. The Art Of Reason ( 10:17)
  6. Pressure ( 5:13)
  7. Flags And Footprints ( 4:57)
  8. Static ( 5:06)
  9. The Destruction Of Worlds (6:10)

Added: September 16th 2005
Reviewer: Yves Dubé
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Threshold: Subsurface
Posted by Murat Batmaz, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-09-16 07:07:27
My Score:

Subsurface is Threshold's seventh studio album. They've put out some live discs and fan club stuff as well but they don't count as official albums. With this album, the amazing British prog metal band has once again moved on the right path putting out a more focused release compared to their previous effort Critical Mass. As much as Critical Mass was a great album in its own right, it did sound a tad less focused than Hypothetical which is perhaps one of the best albums they've done with their third vocalist Mac.

Subsurface sees the band going back to the more refined and focused writing of Hypothetical, but it also brings in new flavours to the compositions. Unlike Critical Mass, this album was written purely by the band's two main creative forces: Karl Groom and Richard West. While it's reasonable when other members add their own ideas to the songwriting, this is not always a good idea if their offerings don't mash well with the main writers'. So Karl Groom and Richard West, just like in the old days, wrote this record completely by themselves with the exception of "Pressure" which was co-written by Nick Midson. Vocalist Mac didn't do any songwriting this time but he makes up for it by his most amazing vocal delivery to date. Although Psychedelicatessen will probably always be my favourite Threshold album, I have to give it to Mac that he's certainly the most versatile and technically efficient vocalist they have ever had.

Long-time bassist Jon Jeary has unfortunately left the band and was replaced by Steve Anderson. It does bring to mind some question marks as to how Anderson is going to fill Jeary's shoes since Jeary was a very integral part of the classic Threshold sound. The bass work on Subsurface is quite intricate but not as predominant as their back catalog. Steve Anderson is obviously a very talented bass player. Because of Jeary's absence, the lyrics were all penned by Richard West on his own. Since Jeary had written the lyrics for the band's previous epics such as "Part of the Chaos" and "Eat the Unicorn", it must have been a challenging task for Richard West writing the 10 plus track "The Art of Reason". No offense to Jeary's cerebral lyrics, but the words on this album are almost as deep and thought-provoking as Threshold's older albums, if not better. Richard West is an incredible musician. He is perhaps the one and only other keyboardist whose impact in the band has been as important as Kevin Moore's was to Dream Theater. Both West and Moore are the kind of musicians who like to blanket their songs with layers of atmosphere instead of mindless noodling over their instruments. Similarly Richard West also writes amazing lyrics that make Threshold so much more interesting than most other acts. The opening song "Mission Profile" is not only a great representative of the album in general, it also offers socipolitical commentary on what's going on below the surface. The album lyrically explores the apathy of humanity, the hidden agenda of world powers and the potential fall of the society as Richard West himself explains.

"Ground Control" is the other great track on the album that defines the style of Subsurface. I have to particularly mention the melodic instrumental section. Unlike most Threshold tunes, this one has a fairly complex and mathematical structure to it, especially during the interplay. I've heard and read some comments about the Threshold members being unable to let it loose on a technical level if need be, and this song simply proves all those nay-sayers wrong. Each and every member of the band has enormous control over their instruments. The vocal harmonies were recorded in layers on some of the tracks and Mac uses the potential of his range to the best of his abilities. Karl Groom along with Richard West has always made all the difference in this band. Both his rhythms and killer lead work destroy! He is such a complete musician. He writes the main skeleton of the songs, he mixes, produces and records. Simply unbelievable. If you're into melodic guitar solos, you might be blown away by what you hear on this disc.

This special edition contains a nice video of "Pressure" and a bonus track written by drummer Johanne James. It's called "What About Me". James actually wrote this song for his own band Kyrb Grinder where he both sings and plays the drums, but it's sung by Mac. It would have been cool to hear James' voice too. This is a surprisingly good track that makes me curious of his side project. Overall Subsurface may become my favourite Mac-era Threshold disc if it keeps staying in my stereo any longer. I've had this disc for over two weeks now and the more I hear it the better it gets. You might want to check it out as well.

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