Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Threshold - Subsurface
   
Musical Style: Progressive Metal Produced By: Karl Groom & Richard West
Record Label: Inside Out Country Of Origin: UK
Year Released: 2004 Artist Website: Threshold
Tracks: 10 Rating: 85%
Running Time: 62:54
Threshold - Subsurface

There are great Christian bands out there, but that is not a market I want to look at. I (would) much rather have the freedom to express my thoughts without having a mandate to appeal to a certain audience.
-Richard West

Threshold is often referred to as the premier progressive metal band to come out of the UK.  Really?  I do not feel that description gives the band the full credit it deserves.  Actually, "one of the premier progressive metal bands in the world" would be more fitting in that Threshold's music easily stands alongside that of Dream Theater, Symphony X, Shadow Gallery and Veni Domine.  Returning with its seventh full length album in the past ten years in Subsurface, Threshold is following up such noteworthy releases as Critical Mass (2002), Hypothetical (2001) and Clone (1998).  And similar to its past efforts, Threshold continues to combine an almost cunning Theocracy-like ability to write catchy melodies with a metal edged rhythm guitar sound and its trademark technical prowess. 

Keyboardist Richard West, Threshold's lone Christian member, does a very fine job adding just the right amount of texture to the bands sound.  Underrated lead vocalist Andy "Mac" McDermott contributes a gut level melodic flavored voice that ranks him with the likes of Russ Allen (Symphony X) and James Labrie (Dream Theater).  The bands longtime bassist Jon Jeary departed in late 2002 only to be replaced by steady newcomer Steve Anderson.  Johanne James puts forth a precise performance on drums, accentuating the bands sound with his hard hitting work on double bass whenever needed.  Guitarist Karl Groom contributes the majority of the albums technical and fluid lead guitar work and combines with Nick Midson to help give the bands sound its guitar driven crunch.
  
Production values are crisp and clean, showcasing more than enough polish but not so much as to take away from the bands abundant energy.  The rhythm guitar, full and edgy and ambient, is produced to near perfection, while the lead guitar cleanly rises above the instrumentation.  The drums pack the needed punch and stand alongside an effective mix of bass guitar.

Critics often label Threshold an "intellectual band" or even a "thinking man's band" due to the manner in which it addresses weighty issues in an attempt to make its lyrics every bit as thought-provoking as its music.  West, who wrote all the lyrics to Subsurface, considers God his main inspiration because no matter what subject you talk about there is always a "God point of view".  That being said, Subsurface is by no means a Christian album.  Rather, the goal of West is to make people believe they can change things with the whole point of change being to change what you can change rather than thinking you cannot change anything.  Subsurface is not a concept album either.  Its focus is on trying to find out what is going on beneath the surface, the idea being that what we see is only a reflection of the truth, while the real truth is concealed somewhere below the surface.
 
"Mission Profile" gradually fades in until it takes off in an upbeat manner as catchy vocal harmonies repeat the phrase "Can we go on?  Can we be strong?".  After an organ accentuates a crunchy rhythm guitar, the two evenly propel the song to an atmospheric chorus in which West's keyboards add the perfect touch.  A lead guitar and keyboard trade off opens an instrumental passage culminating in a breathtaking solo from Midson.  "Mission Profile" is about capitalism and how it's getting into a bad way:

Devastation is where we're heading if we follow this illusion
Escalation of all the hurting that is borne of our confusion
Unrelenting as we persist in putting everyone beneath us
Never ending until we understand our honesty deceives us

There is still one truth on which we can depend
We've started something we can never end

We know although we try to justify the means
The truth behind the end remains unseen
And while we all assume we all agree
We're giving up the freedom to be free

"Ground Control" also fades in before a combination of rhythm guitar and keyboards gives way to the bouncing metal edged riff that drives its verse.  Once keyboards move back to the front of the mix, they bring out the best in a catchy chorus that, at its end, slows to the sound of a piano.  I like how "Ground Control" makes a time change to an instrumental passage featuring a slowly played almost bluesy solo, while a second lead guitar break later in the song moves in a faster and more energetic direction.

"Opium" stands out with its superlative melody line.  Opening to several seconds of bluesy lead guitar, a piano briefly carries the song forward until a driving riff takes over and pushes it to an infectious chorus driven by vocal harmonies.  Lead guitar and keyboard interplay opens a sweeping instrumental section before "Opium" again slows to a piano.  "Opium" is about how television is the new opium of the masses:

I've struggled to get near it
To backwards engineer it
But all I find is a smoke and mirror game
The recondite monopolise the airwaves
Until all believe there is no other way
And this is how we live our lives
Our opium is televised until finally they watch us fade away

While the straightforward hard rocker "Stop Dead" is the albums least progressive influenced track, it is by no means any less noteworthy.  The quirky keyboards introducing the song transition to a crisp rhythm guitar that conveys it hard and heavy to a chorus highlighting an ethereal blend of acoustic guitar and keyboards.  Groom tops things off with several seconds of gritty lead guitar work.

After keyboards initiate the ten minute epic "The Art Of Reason", the rhythm guitar enters the mix and takes it forward in rapid fashion as catchy vocal harmonies repeat the phrase "I don't believe that it's right".  Slowing in pace as the rhythm guitar briefly drops from the mix, the song gains momentum prior to arriving at a smooth sounding chorus with a catchy refuse to go away hook.  A lengthy instrumental passage is driven by a very well done lead guitar and keyboard trade off.  "The Art Of Reason" talks about how the system is supposed to help us run the place properly, but rather the system is ruling us and we can't do anything about it:

We thought you'd do your best for future generation
But all of you left was a mounting debt
We thought peace would flow like water through the nations
But you shut down the fountainhead

We thought you'd right the wrongs that others brought upon us
But you sold off our right to choose
We thought you'd fight for us
But you just fought among us and you sold off your servitude

"Pressure" is a terrific guitar driven hard rocker.  Jumping out of the gate to a heavy duty guitar riff, a ton of energy-laden momentum impels the song forward until it crests for a hard hitting chorus accentuated by James' rapid double bass.  Groom's lead guitar duals with West's keyboards during a minute long instrumental passage.

The piano at the start of the majestic ballad "Flags And Footprints" is joined after several seconds by a bit of rhythm guitar.  Subsequent to an acoustic guitar replacing the rhythm guitar at the start of its first verse, the rhythm guitar returns as the song picks up in pace for a very fine ethereal flavored chorus.  I find West's keyboard work here to be nothing less than mesmerizing.

"Static" begins slowly until a crunchy rhythm guitar drives it at a groove flavored upbeat tempo through its first verse.  Tapering off as the rhythm guitar briefly drops from the mix, the song moves on to a slowly moving chorus backed by a touch of vocal harmonies.  Thirty seconds of edgy lead guitar is carried over a bit of double bass before "Static" slows to a combination of piano and acoustic guitar.

The semi-ballad "The Destruction Of Words" advances to a quietly played guitar line during its first verse, the combination of rhythm guitar and organ kicking in at the start of the second leading the way to a chorus with a good commercial feel.  "The Destruction Of Words" talks about how the decadence of society has filled our lives to the point we don't have the time or inclination to search for greater truths anymore:

Truth is sublime, but talk is just a waste of time
Describing, believing and destroying the shadows that form our lives

I don't need hypotheses and all that's assumed:
flawless ideologies that decadence consumed
And I am just the knowledge that found its way to you
And now I've reached our zenith and everything was true

"What About Me", a bonus track penned by drummer Johanne James, is a good upbeat hard rocker showcasing a solid hook driven chorus.

From front to back Subsurface proves a very commendable and listenable effort highlighting several standout tracks in "Mission Profile", "Ground Control", "Opium", "The Art Of Reason" and "Pressure".  A top notch production job and the bands first rate musicianship and well thought out lyrics only adds to its appeal. 
 
Review by: Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: "Mission Profile" (8:15), "Ground Control" (7:10), "Opium" (6:47), "Stop Dead" (4:18), "The Art Of Reason" (10:17), "Pressure" (5:13), "Flags And Footprints" (4:57), "Static" (5:06), "The Destruction Of Words" (6:10), "What About Me" (4:19)

Musicians
Mac – Lead Vocals
Karl Groom – Guitars
Nick Midson – Guitars
Richard West – Keyboards
Steve Anderson – Bass
Johanne James – Drums

Also Reviewed: Threshold - Dead Reckoning

Videos: "Pressure"

 

Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
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