Album Review: Spock's Beard - 'The Oblivion Particle'.
“Tell me how to begin”, pleads vocalist Ted Leonard, on opening track ‘Tides Of Time’, which kicks off this, Spock’s Beard’s twelfth outing. One of the leading talismanic lights of the contemporary progressive rock scene, along with the likes of the closely associated Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard are a band with a long and varied history. During their almost twenty-five year existence, the quintet have gone through a number of line-up changes - most notably with the departure of founder member and lead vocalist Neal Morse in 2002 - however the song as they say, remains the same, and ‘The Oblivion Particle’ marks the band’s second outing with Leonard fronting the band.
To answer his opening gambit, with his powerful timbre backed by epic prog grooves, an abundance of expansive keys, fast fingered rumbling basslines and melodious guitars, “it seems you’ve got it covered, mate”. Straying none too far from this winning template throughout ‘The Oblivion Particle’ this record finds Spock’s Beard doing business pretty much as usual. Where ‘Tides Of Time’ announces the album with heroic musical vistas that tell you all you need to know about the band, ‘Minion’, which follows, compounds this, bursting with sci-fi guitars and multi-layered harmonies punctuated by mind-boggling six string soloing courtesy of Alan Morse. The deceptive medieval acoustic intro to ‘Hell’s Not Enough’ meanwhile masks a track that continues in a similar vein, where improbable metronomic guitars, keyboards and drums hammer in sync amid towering melodies.
A short venture off-road arrives in the quirky ‘Bennett Build The Time Machine’. Featuring a lead vocal from drummer Jimmy Keegan, it’s full of musical twists and turns. It’s followed by the altogether darker ‘Get Out While You Can’, which brings with it a welcome change of pace. At just under five minutes long, it’s also the album’s most succinct track.
However with progressive rock, it’s all about the epics, and ‘The Oblivion Particle’, does not leave the listener wanting. With time changes, multitudes of passages, bongos, bass solos and more, ‘A Better Way To Fly’ is the album’s first centrepiece. With soaring verses and a breathless time signature that stretches out over extended instrumental passages, it’s the album’s stand out track. Meanwhile, highlighting the piano and bass and bass skills of Ryo Okumoto and Dave Meros respectively, the real drama arrives in ‘The Centre Line’ which like its predecessor, is epically grandiose.
‘To Be Free Again’ however is the album’s real opus. An annunciating majestic introduction lumbers for a full two minutes before a picked acoustic guitar ushers in the first verse. Lush harmonic choruses meanwhile are tempered by heavy guitars and complimenting Hammond organ verses. Add to this is an achingly beautiful piano solo from Okumoto and the juxtaposing but tasteful guitar soloing from Morse, and what you have is a song that highlights the considerable talents of all involved, but which is also more than the sum of its parts.
Following that, the closing ‘Disappear’ eases off on the tempo, and adds violin to the musical mix, on an album that already has considerable depth and versatility. It may initially conjure a hazy dream state, however one final left-field time and tempo change reminds the listener that this is indeed prog.
With obvious nods to the likes of Yes and Steve Hackett era Genesis, as well as elements of modern day Marillion, ‘The Oblivion Particle’ will appeal to fans of both older and modern day progressive music. According to the press release that accompanies it; ‘The Oblivion Particle’ has all the trademarks of a grower. For some listeners, it will grow quicker than others. A fine addition to the band’s catalogue of work.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 1 September 2015.