What do you think of when I say “progressive metal?” Well, if you’re anything like me, you think of early ’90s wanks from New York, nerdy band photos of cheap sunglasses and bad haircuts, masturbating guitar solos, cheesy keyboard theatrics, and lengthy double-albums longing to be The Wall or The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. If your mind does indeed work like mine (you poor, poor bastard), then Spock’s Beard has a cranial nook reserved somewhere in the deep, dark recesses of your perverted, throbbing skull organ. Having been a regular fan before the Snow fell and Neal Morse left us all for God, I haven’t revisited them in over a decade, as I chose to avoid the beard oil of the band’s ’00 era. However, after being forced by the AMG HR department to listen to their entire back-catalog and review their newest opus, The Oblivion Particle, it turns out I rather enjoyed myself. Rediscovering a band is as satisfying as relieving oneself (By the way Steel, you should send a goon to mop up HR).
After losing Neal Morse in 2002 and then drummer/vocalist Nick D’Virgilio after 2010’s X, Spock’s Beard recruited Ted Leonard and Jimmy Keegan for mic and drum duty, respectively. With this fresh blood, the band took Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep to a level that Spock’s Beard has been trying to achieve for years. While nowhere near classics like The Light and The Kindness of Strangers, the band was refreshed, focused, and having one hell of a good time. And that is definitely true for The Oblivion Particle. On par with Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, The Oblivion Particle takes everything a step farther with a spontaneity and drive that harkens back to the old days and puts this release up around the Neal Morse era in quality.
Though “Tides of Time” plays out rather typically with it’s Dream Theater-esque qualities and keyboard wanking, the chorus is catchy and the midsection acoustic guitar build-up would make Joe Bonamassa throb in his pants. It’s these progressions and curve-ball antics that make The Oblivion Particle stand out like the older releases. Other nifty tweaks to the formula come in the way of the Nick Drake-meets-Dax Riggs verse of “Hell’s Not Enough” and the overly fun “Bennett Built a Time Machine;” where Benny builds a machine in order to fix the past. “Bennett Built a Time Machine” not only sports the goofiest rhythms and lyrics on the album, but uses them in a chorus ripped from the staffs of “I’m Into Something Good” [Herman’s Hermits] while providing some Arcturus-inspired synthing that sends Benny careening down a fourth-dimensional rabbit hole. With such progressive intensive tracks back-to-back, it is only fitting that Benny’s number be succeeded by “Get Out While You Can;” a straight-forward ditty that delivers the goods while providing a breather from all the “progression.”
Though Spock’s Beard have done away with the multi-part epics they’re famous for, “A Better Way To Fly” and “To Be Free Again” are for those listeners that itch for ten-minute campaigns. Neither are really groundbreaking, but both are solid. The former includes some calming Ghost-like background organs, and a full-band vocal performance at the 7:00 mark, while the laid-back attitude of “To Be Free Again” could lull you to sleep and close this album perfectly. Instead, closer “Disappear” begins like Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird” and casually moves along through an odd barbershop-esque arrangement near the 4:00 mark before finally ending. Sadly, I’m not a fan of this one due to the location on the album, and elsewhere, the off-putting chorus and lyrics of “Minion” are an issue.
Overall, this a really fun album that requires a few spins to penetrate. The production is top-notch, the instruments are evenly balanced, the performances are stellar, Leonard’s vocals are highly enjoyable (and so are Keegan’s as he takes the lead on “Bennett Built a Time Machine”), and the songwriting is concise and focused. And if that’s not enough to get you to click on the embedded track, look at that fucking artwork! So, strap in, dear reader, as we take this pod not to the yesteryears of Spock’s Beard, but rather to the future. I never thought I’d say it again but I’m excited to see what the future holds for this band [Report to HR with a large mop. – Steel Druhm].