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Spock's Beard: X

Symphonic progressive rock act Spock's Beard has caused a lot of debate and polarization amongst their fans for most of the last decade. When founder and leader Neal Morse left in 2002, fans immediately rejected the new version led by drummer/singer Nick D'Virgilio. The similarities to Genesis are palpable, but whereas they eventually toned down out their complexity to sell records, Spock's Beard never have. Their last few albums maintained most of what made Spock's Beard so fantastic before: The musicianship was still incredible, the ambition was high and the melodies were engaging. Their newest LP, X, easily earns its place alongside them.

The band formed in California roughly twenty years ago when brothers Neal and Alan Morse met drummer Nick D'Virgilio. Combining their own sense of eccentricities with influences that span the entire first generation of progressive rock, Spock's Beard released six albums with Neal before he left in 2002 to pursue his own religious solo work. Feeling confident in their ability and loyalty to their fans, the band decided to continue with a new leader, and have been very successful artistically. Also, just as he has on their previous three albums, composer and songwriter John Boegehold serves as an important collaborator on X, which, just like its nine predecessors, delivers top notch progressive rock with charm, skill and catchiness.

Although X only has eight tracks, it's still almost 80 minutes in duration, and none of it is wasted. "Edge of the In-Between" opens the album with a symphony of synths and it constantly shifts between poppy melodies and complex breaks. The track has a tingle of inspirational warmth that's both intangible and inviting, and it's a great choice to start the album. "The Emperor's Clothes" is a silly track that tells the familiar story of a scam artist who fools Philistines with poorly made clothing. The melody and accompanying horns make it playful and enjoyable, and Spock's Beard once again invoke the vocal layering technique popularized by Gentle Giant (it's become their beloved trademark).

"Kamikaze" is an instrumental full of intricacy and alternating levels of intensity. Its riffs and choir samples recall similar aspects of their classic piece "The Great Nothing" from V, and D'Virgilio proves once again that he's a great drummer first and foremost. It's a superb track that's just as good as material from their vintage days. "From The Darkness" is the first true epic on X and it's broken into multiple parts. Its pattern allows heavy rocking segments and softer instrumental segues to blend effortlessly, and there is some very affective piano work that will stay with you.

Another beautiful piano melody and fitting performance by D'Virgilio interrupts the straightforward momentum of "The Quiet House" halfway through the track. It's one of the most wonderful moments on X. It's reminiscent of the emotional saga the band opened 2006's Octane with. "Their Name Escapes Me" runs with a gimmick that actually works. Fans entered a contest to have their names mentioned on the album, and the band cleverly turned it into a very haunting and ominous song, which includes piano notes that tiptoe over ghostly chants and sorrowful cello. D'Virgilio sings about revealing the identities of traitors to an oracle (he hopes doing so will save his soul, I guess). He insists that he can't remember them (hence the title), but eventually he recites them in an interesting melody while the music swirls behind him. It's very inventive.

"The Man Behind the Curtain" interweaves moments of forceful rocking and acoustic modesty before combining into progressive rock glory for the remaining minutes. Spock's Beard shows a great handle of dynamics with it. The second epic piece, "Jaws of Heaven," closes the album magnificently. D'Virgilio begins with a story of a lonely traveler longing for the past and filled with regret before a mournful instrumental bit begins. Once again it's lead by an encompassing piano melody and other heart wrenching timbres, providing another one of the best moments on X. The traveler then tells of entering a quiet town and preparing to enter the Jaws of Heaven while continuing that same piano melody with different instruments. Spock's Beard expertly craft anticipation for the third section when the bombastic sound is dissolved into almost nothing before it slowly builds again into a world of regret and learning. Bringing the piece full circle, the music once again reprises the main melody as it closes with more incredible playing. Progressive rock epics are known for stitching in the same musical idea throughout in order to preserve a sense of grand continuity and this track does it masterfully.

Spock's Beard unquestionably lost something special when Neal Morse left, and to be honest, they aren't as good anymore. Neal brought a more experimental, adventurous and original perspective, and without him, Spock's Beard have become more commercial and straightforward; they play things safe. But even so, they still craft some of the best progressive rock and pop songwriting around, and X is a perfect example of that. It's certainly no V or Snow (to which few albums can compare), but it's still very good on its own merit. Fans should stop dismissing them for what they don't sound like anymore and embrace what they are still able to do.

Track Listing
1. Edge of the In-Between (10:30)
2. The Emperor's Clothes (5:52)
3. Kamikaze (3:50)
4. From the Darkness (16:36)
5. The Quiet House (9:03)
6. Their Names Escape Me (8:57)
7. The Man Behind the Curtain (7:46)
8. Jaws of Heaven (16:22)

Added: December 27th 2010
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 4103
Language: english

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Spock's Beard: X
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-12-27 07:47:34
My Score:

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain!

Since the departure of Neal Morse from Spock's Beard, it seems like the famed prog band has consistently gotten better with each new release. Feel Euphoria was an enormous drop in quality from their previous albums, Octane was a little bit better, Spock's Beard was a great album, and now we have X, their best album since Snow. Although X isn't a masterpiece like Snow or V, it's a terrific prog album that should undoubtedly please fans of Spock's Beard and modern progressive rock in general. If you've been a Spock's Beard naysayer since the beginning, X won't change your mind, but for anyone else, this is a great entrance into what Spock's Beard has been up to the last 8 years.

The music here is unquestionably Spock's Beard - symphonic progressive rock with pop tendencies and jazz/heavy rock influences. There's plenty of variation throughout X, which is always a good thing when the playing time borders the 80 minute mark. On the album you'll hear prog rock epics like "From the Darkness" and "Jaws of Heaven", a heavy instrumental track "Kamikaze", or even a pop-sounding song with "The Emperor's Clothes". There aren't any throwaways, although I do wish the playing time were cut a bit. The post-Neal Morse era Spock's Beard still hasn't fully mastered making albums this long. It's safe to say that X would've been much more powerful and sharp if somewhere in the 50-60 minute range. Still, it's not a huge complaint when considering the quality of most of the music here. The upbeat opener "Edge of the In-Between", the beautiful "The Quiet House", the symphonic "Their Names Escape Me", and the epic finale "Jaws of Heaven" are all prog rock masterpieces, and surely standout tracks on the album. All of the other music is still great, but not quite up to the standards set by the aforementioned songs. Of course, as we're used to from Spock's Beard, the musicianship is excellent and professional. The prominent basslines from Dave Meros are, as always, a standout element in Spock's Beard's music. The keyboard playing from Ryo Okumoto is also great - just listen to a song like "Kamikaze". He definitely knows how to handle a Hammond organ. Nick D'Virgilio's drumming isn't particularly complex, but he has a distinct and impressive style that nobody can argue with. Not to mention his terrific singing pipes either. Alan Morse's guitar style is also very distinct - he's simply one of the best guitarists in modern prog!

The production is, as expected from Spock's Beard, extremely well done. There's a 70's vibe with the bass high in the mix and a raw drum sound. I have no complaints here.


X is a great album by Spock's Beard, and probably their best since the masterpiece that was Snow. If you're one of the people who's reluctant to listen to post-Neal Morse Spock's Beard because of the heavy pop leanings, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by X. Although there's undoubtedly a commercial edge here, it's no more than we would have expected from Spock's Beard back in 2000. 4 stars are deserved for this highly recommendable release - all modern progressive rock fans should pick this up at some point!

Spock's Beard: X
Posted by Scott Ward, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-11-02 10:32:34
My Score:

I first heard this disc on a trip to Chicago. While down there the drummer for the band Mindwarp Chamber told me I had to hear this album from his friends. He took us out to his car and Spock's Beard's newest album was gifted to me by another fine musician. It only took me long enough to get home to my computer to order this disc and it has become my feel good, go to album. With their unique charm and witty lyrics, you cannot help but get a big smile when Nick D'Virgilio and company deliver some of the most intriguing progressive music available.

With a popish feel to get you started the band weaves a magical blend of about every prog band you can name with their opener "Edge Of The In-Between" which is most definitely a band looking at the cup being half full! Their optimistic approach is such a refreshing change from the dark and depressing mood of so many bands today.

They continue this trend with the Beatlesque "The Emperor's Clothes" which sounds like it came out off the Magical Mystery Tour with its fun loving story and music. Interestingly Neal Morse is credited as one of the contributors to the writing of this song. I wonder if part of it may have been something tucked away from his days with the band.

The instrumental "Kamikaze" is a terrific Ryo Okumoto song where he shows off his keyboard magic without Nick's vocals getting in the way. (Just a joke Nick)! This is a song that brings back memories of Deep Purple or maybe even Rick Wakeman. Terrific stuff no matter how you slice it.

The song that may define this disc and the whole feeling you get while listening to it has to be "From The Darkness". The intricate musical passages are an ear bending experience that has so many layers you pick something new up with every listen. Once again they dwell in the land of sunshine and do their best to fight the gloom and doom so prevalent today.

On the limited edition disc that I received there is a song called "Their Names Escape Me" which is one of the cleverest ideas I have heard. Everyone who pre-ordered the album had their name included in the song. Not only does SB pull this off, I am sick that I didn't hear about this sooner. They crafted a very engaging song and it would have been very cool to be immortalized by them!

One of my favorite moments on the disc has to be the very funny "The Man Behind The Curtain". Here they show how to make a hilarious song while still retaining the great musical style that they are known for. Not since Jethro Tull can I remember a group that could be as witty and funny and still have the musicianship that is so dazzling.

They end the album with the epic "Jaws Of Heaven" which is as grandiose as anything that has come out of the Spock's Beard camp before. Soaring keyboards are the main focus but each in the band has a chance to shine in this 16 minute opus and they all do.

I was trying to avoid the name Neal Morse in this review but the band had to spoil that for me. That being said, I would have to say that this album is as enjoyable as any that I have heard with or without him. Besides it is time to forget what was and just be thankful for what they have given us. I haven't heard this much squabbling since the Pink Floyd split and I certainly hope that the fans can appreciate what the band is doing these days much more than the Roger Waters fans did with the later day Floyd. Spock's Beard is one of the most talented bands around today and this album only emphasizes that fact. Just go get this one and you will see find a wealth of great music that does the soul good!!

Spock's Beard: X
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-09-28 14:27:15
My Score:

Much like Genesis were a completely different beast when Collins took over for Gabriel, the same can be said for Spock's Beard with Nick D'Virgilio in the vocal slot in place of Neal Morse. I will tell you this-I think it's about time that we all stop talking about Mr. Morse already when it comes to Spock's Beard discussions. He's been gone for quite a few years now, and the band has done just fine without him. Sure, the albums they have released since he left have been more in a pop/rock style when compared to the much more epic prog statements of the Morse era, but this the reality of it all, so these Nick era releases simply need to be judged on their own merit.

That brings us to X, the latest CD from D'Virgilio, Alan Morse, Ryo Okumoto, and Dave Meros. Though all the pop leanings are still very present, these seven tunes are all epic in scope and length, filled with memorable, catchy melodies, sizzling instrumentation, and a sense of 'fun' that only Spock's Beard can deliver.

"Edge of the In Between" soars with plenty of grandeur and beauty, almost as if the band was jamming with The Beatles, ELO, and The Move, while "Kamikaze" retains that playful prog edge that the band are so famous for, the influences of Gentle Giant, Deep Purple, and Yes faintly heard in the background. Kudos to Alan & Ryo on this one for some aggressive guitar and keyboard tradeoffs. The band mix catchy prog with raucous alternative rock on "Emperors Clothes" (watch out for the nifty Gentle Giant styled vocal section here), and the massive "From the Darkness" might be one of the best epics this band has done since the Neal Morse days. Filled with driving guitar & organ riffs, powerful vocals & drum work from D'Virgilio, and addicting melodies, this is one absolutely must hear epic from this band. Meros and his rumbling bass kick off the upbeat & bouncy "Quiet House", another great mix of pop and prog rock, while the engaging and quite symphonic "Man Behind the Curtain" mixes everything most of us love about progressive rock, including gorgeous atmosphere, virtuoso instrumentation, heavy rock sections, and catchy hooks. Mounds of mighty Mellotron and Moog permeate the 16 minute closer "Jaws of Heaven", another lengthy epic from the band that also sees Meros deliver some stunning acrobatic bass work as well as plenty of prog & fusion passages from the entire band.

It will be up to you to decide whether X is the best post-Snow release from Spock's Beard or not, but I'm going to say if it isn't, it's damn close. For those who felt the band was getting further and further away from their prog roots, well, the band has certainly heard your cries and delivered their most adventurous album in years. Filled with thoughful and engaging lyrics, expert musicianship, and powerful vocals, X is a winner on all fronts.

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