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Thought Chamber: Angular Perceptions

Thought Chamber came to life after guitar virtuoso Michael Harris released an album called Sketches from the Thought Chamber in 2001 when he decided to form a real band, enlisting the vocal services of Enchant's Ted Leonard, the amazing rhythm section of Haji's Kitchen, and Outworld's keyboard player Bobby Williamson. Harris himself is responsible for the guitars, some keys, and even backing vocals. Even though this is primarily his creation, Thought Chamber seems far from a one-man project, as there are moments of brilliance that could be attributed to solely each member in this band.

For a debut album, Angular Perceptions, whose songwriting was completed over a course of three years, is an incredible effort. The musicianship is tight through and through, and the arrangements are mindblowing. Just listening to the first two songs, "Premonition" actually serving as an extensive intro to "Sacred Treasure", attests to the magnificence and high level of songcraft these guys are capable of. Contrary to what one may expect, the keyboards that open up "Premonition" are dark and menacing, followed by riveting guitar riffs and solid drum and bass before Harris comes up with an uplifting melodic transition that slowly segues into yet another dark acoustic passage with grim keys lingering over it. The final second of this track ties in with the very brief flamenco-like guitar prior to erupting into a mend-bending riff, vintage keyboard exercise, and swirling rhythm battery. It all happens within the course of merely a few seconds yet it is incredibly powerful, utilising a two-note solo performance from each member, with Derek Blakely's bass standing out. Blakely is a monster player, and his contribution to this album is invaluable. Not only is he technically superior, he also exercises wonderful slap bass on some songs, not unlike Stu Hamm. Ted Leonard enters around a minute into the song, providing vocals that are sung in a much more lower range than his work with Enchant. The melody is strong and leaves a long-lasting effect, and as the middle section calls for an instrumental break, Harris' guitar playing, with furious sweeping, plays off blazing synth motifs, bringing in a multitude of background effects and super acoustic guitars. The main harmony is sublime and the fusion-like guitar playing blended with sturdy bass and keyboards at the end are testimony to this band's calibre. "Sacred Treasure" will easily be one of the best songs of 2007.

Although Michael Harris, known for his work with keyboard maestro Vitalij Kuprij, is undoubtedly a rare talent in guitar playing, it is his songwriting and arrangement ability that comes through on this album. I am particularly impressed by his constant use of acoustic guitar lines wowen behind heavy clusters of rhythm guitar and bass. Even during the heavier and busy parts, as the one on "A Legend's Avalon", Harris plants a distant acoustic line underlining Leonard's melodic chorus. Even though the guitar work here is incredibly complex, delving into tech metal territory, Harris' playing always resolves with unexpected outburts of melodic segments. This is another dark piece, particularly during the instrumental section, evoking images of Tool with its tribal drumming and King's X-like bass guitar drive, and Leonard's vocals are some of his finest ever. The scream at the end is something we'd never hear him do on an Enchant album. Likewise, the vocal performance on "Transmigration of Souls" is unique. He goes from a very low, almost tortured tone during the exotic, Egyptian scales to dynamic clean singing in the blink of an eye. As is the case, it is the acoustic guitars why this song is so intense, as they contrast the other instruments. The vocal melody around the middle is killer, and I love how the composition is not compromised during even the wild improvised ending brought into the piece.

Of course it is impossible to imagine Ted Leonard not doing his Kansas-like hard rock vocals and these are offered on "God of Oblique" and "Balance of One", the latter featuring guitar, keyboards and back vocals by Michael Harris. The main harmony vocals of "God of Oblique" work surprisingly well given the dexterous rhythms fused with swirling keyboards and guitars. The largely acoustic ballad "Silent Shore" brings in a healthy dose of string arrangements, some violin, and the occasional electric guitars underpinning a strong symphonic idiom.

The two instrumentals, which contain strong input by both Stankiewicz and Blakely, help in balancing out the album. They are tremendously technical musically, but once again, the writing is solid as a rock. "Mr Qwinkle's Therapy" is whimsical, with plenty of slap bass a la King's X, and fuses intense groove-inflected riffage and vintage 70's prog, throwing in eastern scales and eerie minor chord progressions. The funky outro is particularly enjoyable given the head-spinning dexterity exposed during the middle. "Accidently on Purpose" sports more prominent keyboards, and Stankiewicz' drum fills are both tasteful and at breakneck speed. The album closes with "A Mind Beyond", another dark piece, with creepy atmosphere, marching drum beats, and a curious piano melody. That said, the middle part of the song strangely evokes Enchant because of the vocal arrangement.

Inside Out continues to release amazing debut albums. Last year, it was Frost's Milliontown, and to me, this year it will be Angular Perceptions. For the time being, I can't fathom another debut surpassing this one. It's going to be one of the highlights of the year.

Track Listing

  1. Premonition
  2. Sacred Treasure
  3. A Legend's Avalon
  4. Balance of One
  5. Nr. Qwinkle's Therapy
  6. Transmigration of Souls
  7. God of Oblique
  8. Silent Shore
  9. Accidently on Purpose
  10. A Mind Beyond

Added: April 18th 2007
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Related Link: Thought Chamber @ MySpace
Hits: 10509
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Thought Chamber: Angular Perceptions
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-04-17 21:32:15
My Score:

Angular Perceptions is one classy prog rock debut from Thought Chamber, once again brought to us by the wonderful folks at InsideOut Music, who seem to have the magic touch for releasing fine prog rock & prog metal albums year in and year out. This band features a pretty stellar line-up of notable musicians: guitar virtuoso Michael Harris, singer Ted Leonard (Enchant), keyboard player Bobby Williamson (Outworld), drummer Rob Stankiewicz, and bassist Derek Blakley. Mixing intense & complex prog-metal ("Balance of One"), soaring Kansas-styled majestic rock ("Sacred Treasure"), and hard hitting instrumental progressive fusion ("Mr. Qwinkle's Theory"), the boys in Thought Chamber cover all the bases and have come up with a real winner here.

If you haven't heard the talents of Harris on his many solo albums or work with keyboard wizard Vitalij Kuprij, then you are in for a treat here. This guy can positively shred with reckless abandon, lay down some mean riff-o-rama, and drop in a gentle and melodic acoustic bit, all with the greatest of ease. Add in Williamson's nimble and symphonic keyboard textures, plus the tight rhythm section, and you have a perfect base for Leonard and his classy vocals. His powerful range glides over the complex interplay on "Transmigration of Souls", and when he cranks it into overdrive on "God of Oblique", you'll hear a singer that hasn't sounded this aggressive in years. This piece brings to mind some of Dream Theater's heavier material, thanks in part to Harris' crunchy & complex riffs and the raging keyboards from Williamson. When this band wants to get downright funky & fusiony, they certainly can, as evident on the instrumental "Accidentally On Purpose", a real highlight for Stankiewicz & Blakely, as the duo really dig in with some intricate rhythms. Not to be outdone, Harris and Williamson also rip into some jaw dropping solos on this one. The near 8-minute closer "A Mind Beyond" has a certain Fates Warning meets Symphony X feel to it, with some dark atmosphere to go along with heavy riffs and complex arrangements.

This one came out of nowhere folks, and should easily be one of 2007's best prog-metal releases. Let's hope these guys can keep this little project together and make it a long term thing so we can anticipate more new music in years to come. Highly recommended!

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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