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Tracklist: 1. Made Alive Overture 5:32 2. Stranger In a Strange Land 4:29 3. Long Time Suffering 6:04 4. The 39th Street Blues 4:06 5. Devil's Got My Throat 7:17 6. Wind At My Back 5:12 7. Second Overture 3:47 8. 4th of July 3:11 9. I'm the Guy 4:48 10. Looking for Answers 5:16 11. Freak Boy 2:12 12. I Will Go 5:09 All tracks: by N. Morse. Line-up: Neal Morse - vocals; synthesizers & piano; rhythm guitars Alan Morse - electric & acoustic guitars Nick D'Virgilio - drums & percussion Dave Meros - bass guitar Roy Okumoto - organ Produced & engineered by N. Morse at "Radiant" studios.
Prologue. "V" remains to this day the only Spock's Beard album that I have yet to listen to. In other words, until now, I've heard all four of the first albums by the band, among which I really liked only their debut, "The Light". Unfortunately, beginning with the band's sophomore release, "Beware of Darkness", which was just slightly inferior to "The Light", each of the following two albums by Spock's Beard was much simpler than its predecessor. In that way, I eventually stopped to take an interest in this band's creation, which happened in 1999. However, having more than once heard and read that "Snow" is not only the most ambitious, but also the first concept album by Spock's Beard, I decided to try it again. Finally, I'd like to mention that, according to the CD press kit, "Snow" is released not only in a usual jewel-case, but also as a special format limited edition double CD digibook. Well, let's see what the band's music is currently about.
The Album. To my surprise, all the predictions about the new album by Spock's Beard turned out to be correct this time, and "Snow" has surpassed all of my expectations. Furthermore, even such a phrase as "the band is currently back to form" (here, I imply the compositional and performing qualities that the band had on their first two albums) would be incorrect today. No less than one third of the compositions that are presented on "Snow" are so complex, diverse, and intriguing that even the most profound lovers of Symphonic Progressive should be struck by them. However, allow me to begin with a negative point of this album and describe the best songs of it closer to the end of the review. Wind At My Back (6) is the only track on the album that I didn't like. Also, this is the only track on the album that does not contain any elements of Prog-Metal. This is a very typical Neo song, the instrumental arrangements of which are straightforward and very simple - especially in all the parts of vocal that are present on it. Stranger In a Strange Land and The 39th Street Blues (tracks 2 & 4) consist of structures that are typical for both of Neo and Classic Progressive of a high quality. Ask me why I am talking about a blend of Classic and Neo Prog now, and I'll answer the next way. On the one hand, the instrumental arrangements remain more or less intensive regardless whether there are vocals or not on both of the said songs. On the other hand, the arrangements, that the instrumental parts of these songs consist of, are more interesting than those that support the vocals. A few of the elements of Prog-Metal are as apropos here as on all of the other tracks on the album. (I am very much into a slightly harsh and even 'simply' harsh Symphonic Progressive. To describe I Will Go (12), I have to divide it (straight in the middle!) into two parts that, structurally, are very different from each other. The first of them represents quite a unique Classic Art-Rock of a theatrically dramatic character where, to the accompaniment of very tasteful and thoughtful interplay between the sad passages of piano and strings and crying solos of guitar, a hero sings with a 'sick' voice "Help me, - I'm dying", etc. The second part of this track is about an optimistic Pomp Rock ballad, though, as the ending of the album, such a sound is, perhaps, more than justified. All three of the following songs that, 'in addition', follow one after the other: 4th of July, I'm the Guy, and Looking for Answers (8, 9, & 10), are not only excellent by all means, but also in many ways similar among themselves. Being, overall, very original, they at the same time feature some delicate hints of The Beatles - both vocally and instrumentally. However, there are neither borrowings nor direct influences on these songs. Most of all, this series of three songs reminds me of a well though-out experiment on the matter of how The Beatles would sound if they were still together and play in a progressive style, which, in all its beauty, was presented on the band's eponymous double LP of 1968. By the way, I was really amazed not to hear on this album anything that would be even remotely similar to Gentle Giant, including those dissonant choral voicing that were invented by Gentle Giant and used by them (as well as Jethro Tull) in the 1970s. Freak Boy (11) is a song, the stylistics of which is nothing else but Classic Prog-Metal with elements of Symphonic Art-Rock (i.e. this track is a 'heavy' counterpart to the album's predominant stylistics). This is almost a masterpiece, and my only regret concerns the length of this track, which is too short for such a kind of music as this. To all appearances, though, a promo CD of the "Snow" album features just a short-cut version of Freak Boy (which, if so, was quite roughly shortened). All four of the remaining tracks, Made Alive Overture, Long Time Suffering, Devil's Got My Throat, and Second Overture (1, 3, 5, & 7), are real progressive killers. Frankly, I didn't expect to hear such a complex, masterful, and tasteful performance from Spock's Beard. A
Summary. If Spock's Beard would release an album that would consist entirely of such a kind of music as that which is presented on each of the aforementioned four tracks, it would be an indubitable Classic to the Future. And the band itself then would be on par with most of the so-called Titans of Prog. While Titans receive such status by no means because of they mixed complex and light songs in the same album, but exactly because of almost all of their 'titanic' albums were created within the framework of stylistics, which was unified in every aspect. Nevertheless, Neal Morse & Co can be really proud about "Snow", as this album is undoubtedly their best (to date). Highly recommended!
VM. September 5, 2002
Metal Blade Records:
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