Threshold has long been a darling of the progressive metal scene for two very simple reasons: they’re unbelievably consistent and more importantly, they’re the anti-Dream Theater in that they remember how to write actual songs and not just seven minute, ego-driven wank fests that go nowhere. Despite the tragic death of long time singer Andrew “Mac” McDermott in 2011, the band bounced back hard with 2012’s March of Progress, recruiting original singer Damian Wilson to get the job done, and now they’re back with For the Journey. As before, we get oodles of pristine, highly melodic prog metal that’s a stylistic cousin to Anubis Gate, and like all Threshold material, it’s loaded with first-rate writing and crisp, sharp musicianship. The overall style is classic Threshold, but this is a more introspective, moody and somber outing than March of Progress and it feels like the album one would have expected immediately following the passing of McDermott. That we get it a few years later is a small matter, it’s still Threshold and it’s pretty damn wonderful, and since I have many leather bound books and my study smells of rich mahogany, I clearly know of what I speak.
Most of the songs here have an immediate warmth and familiarity because they stick so closely to what the band has done in the past. And though I suppose it’s rather unproggish of them, this isn’t an album that stretches the Threshold sound palette in any new direction. Instead, they play to their long established strengths and craft beautiful soundscapes with deep melodic hooks. Opener “Watchtower on the Moon” could have been on any album since Hypothetical and fit right in. It’s fairly urgent, and though direct, it has enough offbeat elements and time shifts to qualify as prog. It also uses big, muscular riffs ripped from a Brainstorm album to counter point the rich, melodious keys and vocals. “Unforgiven” delivers a melancholy and utterly captivating tune which Wilson makes absolutely essential with his crystal clear and empathic vocals.
The album centerpiece is the twelve minutes of “The Box,” where the band dabbles in a number of textures and moods while showcasing their ability to make such a long song workable, enjoyable and at times, rather heartbreaking. Again, Wilson is a key to keeping the listener’s ear glued, but the writing and performances are all stellar. The album’s denouement is equally gipping, with “The Mystery Show” and especially “Siren Sky” demonstrating the band is capable of generating enormously emotional compositions with their well appointed style.
The only song that fails to impress is “Autumn Red,” and though it’s far from bad, it suffers from sitting alongside much bigger, grandiose numbers and ends up feeling unnecessary. A bitter nit-picker could argue the front-end of the album is stronger and things fade a bit before reaching the big finish of “Siren Sky,” and to a small extent that may be valid. But the level these chaps operate at is so far above the average band, a slight drop off means next to nothing.
This is a band of truly gifted performers and that comes across on every track. Wilson in particular shines bright, making an Icarus like run at the lofty heights set aside for Sir Russell Allen when he isn’t doing fifth-rate bar rock with Adrenalin Mob. The man has a truly sensational set of pipes and he’s been an absolute savoir for the band. The fret-board heroics by longtime member Karl Groom and relatively new Pete Morten are so satisfying because they’re always so understated. They play within their compositions, not over them or through them and the solos feel like thoughtful accents to well written pieces, not attempts to set land speed records for note burning. Richard West’s keyboard are essential but tasteful, with some sweet Hammond organ pieces cropping up here and there. The backline is equally praiseworthy, with Steve Anderson’s bass presence very sharp and audible, and Johanne James turning in a wonderfully nuanced performance behind the kit. These are musician’s musicians and they’re a joy to hear in action.
For the Journey is everything you expect from a Threshold album. It’s a treasure trove of sweet harmonies and melodies and it’s so pleasing to the ear, you can sometimes forget it’s metal, but it is. I’m thrilled these guys are still turning out product and love that they have Wilson back in the fold. Now get your smoking jackets on, grab a snifter of cognac, blast this muther and get some fucking culture, you lowbrow ruffians!