"We're looking out for a leader..."
Threshold's 9th studio release is the one that will potentially establish them in the top league. With the return of Damian Wilson, the stakes are high and the expectations respectively aloft. Almost 20 years after their debut and 5 since their last release, they had to prove if they were able to march to the top...
"March of Progress" comes out strongly political and places quite an importance on lyrics, which pays out as the album succeeds in "marrying" the dynamic of the compositions with the messages. The latter can be found throughout the album, either in a straightforward manner (Return Of The Thought Police) or through more "blurred" lyrics (Don't Look Down).
Musically, the album safely walks through the sounds and patterns that made Threshold successful before: the heavy metallic riffs of Groom, the accompanying (hammond-like at times) atmospheres of West and the very melodic/catchy refrains (the two being the main composers here). The (re-)addition of Wilson does make a difference as he brings his unparalleled qualities to the record; crystalline vocal performance, always balanced, always varied depending on the character of the track and "multiplied" very selectively to give this extra epic touch when needed. Overall, the mixing and production of the vocals (and production in total) has been very closely looked after to deliver a pristine result.
Similar to the previous releases, the "progressive" element does not come out through virtuoso performances over numerous odd-time signatures but rather through a conservative and selective stretch of their melodic heavy/power-based metal. Nevertheless, the result is Threshold-signature progressive metal of the highest quality. To ensure a place on the charts (cough) the album contains relatively in-your-face dynamites such as the opener "Ashes" and the best-refrain-of-the-year "Staring at the Sun". This is counter-balanced by several mid-tempo tracks (e.g Return of the Thought Police), and in general the album keeps you on your toes with several tempo variations. Best examples of this are the story-telling highlight "Liberty Complacency Dependency" and (the most peculiar track of the record) "Don't Look Down", which starts off as a hammond-filled heavy rock ala-Heep anthem, introduces a disappointing bridge and peaks with a fantastic AOR (in the vein of Magnum) refrain!
Strangely enough, the middle part of the album reminds me suspiciously of another British band: I could swear that "Colophon", "The Hours" and "That's Why we Came" could have been easily included in the discography of ARENA, with the former being the best of this section and the latter, with its relatively simple semi-ballad structure, being the disappointment of the album (if you are looking for one). Talking about other direct influences would be, I feel, inappropriate as Threshold have a long time ago developed their own sound, but the ghost of Stevens era-SAVATAGE hangs around their sound. The latest addition in the band's guitar power, Pete Morten, makes his compositional appearance towards the end: "Coda" (screaming of Judas Priest!) and the bonus track "Divinity" carry his signature and fit perfectly with the heavy-and-melodic character of the band. "The Rubicon" is a typical Threshold semi-epic with up-tempo heavy riffing in the bridge and a slow epic refrain, followed by keyboard soloing.
Apart from the minor deficiencies (as always a subjective matter) in composition, what I was expecting from this album was a further stretch of imagination from the band, a move away from their "comfort zone". On listening the first time, I was slightly disappointed, but it grew on me from then on.
The truth between a simply well- and safely-made progressive metal masterpiece and a genuine "March of Progress" lies somewhere in the middle for this album. You will enjoy the compositional completion and the moments of magic but you might be left with a something-is-missing (but nevertheless sweet) taste. In my top-10 for 2012 but not at the top spot.
Highlights: Staring At The Sun, Liberty Complacency Dependency, The Rubicon
Note: Originally posted in www.progarchives.com