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Spock's Beard

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Review by Gary Hill

I’ve followed Spock’s Beard for quite some time and have always enjoyed their music. From the start they’ve had a great ability to merge more pop oriented sounds with pure progressive rock. They’ve similarly been able to call up healthy slices of modern prog in a mix that’s very classic-oriented in terms of its prog leanings. Well, this album is no exception. It’s definitely Spock’s Beard and fits well with their catalog, but manages to stretch beyond the limits of what we expect from them, too. This is another album that shows off just how strong this year is shaping up to be in terms of music. I’m amazed at the quality of releases so far this year. Again, I’d say this will likely end up in my top ten for 2010, but as good as the music that’s coming out really is, it’s a little tough to guarantee. No matter how you slice it, though, this is one of Spock’s Beard’s best albums – and that says a lot.
Track by Track Review
Edge of the In-Between

The motif that opens this feels very much like old school Genesis. They work through some variations before shifting out to the song proper. It’s a more stripped down musical approach. After the vocal section this turns out into a killer jam that’s got a bit of stuttering approach to it. The guitar solos like crazy over the top. After that, the cut modulates out to a new movement for the next vocals. This is dramatic, but related to the earlier vocal section. They take us quite a thrill ride by revisiting and revising various pieces of the puzzle. This is a great piece of music that really shows off the magic that is Spock’s Beard quite well.

The Emperor's Clothes
I didn’t see this one coming. A symphonic sort of arrangement opens this and the introduction reminds me a lot of The Beatles. From there they work out to a more rocking motif and I suppose I’d think of this as a harder rocking Klaatu. It’s got some interesting shifts and changes (the multi-layered vocal arrangement is particularly cool). This isn’t what I’d consider typical Spock’s Beard, but it’s a great stretch for them and an exciting piece of music. There is an instrumental section later that has some classical music woven into it and also makes me think of Yes.
Kamikaze
This fires in with some scorching progressive rock that calls to mind ELP. From there they take off in a killer jam that’s got a lot of changes and alterations. This most closely resembles Emerson Lake and Palmer, though, with Ryo Okumoto’s keyboards dominating the first portion. Of course, as Alan Morse’s guitar solos later, this feels closer to Kansas. Later there’s something that feels like a cross between Genesis and the Beatles. Those four bands are really merged into an instrumental that is all Spock’s Beard. 
From the Darkness
This is one of those multi-part epics that Beard has been so fond of over the years. It’s almost seventeen minutes in length. It powers out with a hard rocking jam that’s got a little Kansas and a little fusion built into it. From there it works out to a scorching hard rocking motif for the first vocal section. This is both catchy and meaty. Somehow the vocal sound on this makes me think of modern Alice Cooper just a bit. This section is called “The Darkness” and works through some cool changes before moving out into a great instrumental movement. Then we’re dropped back into the vocal portion. Another scorching instrumental section ensues. This eventually drops down to a sedate arrangement that, I believe, signals the transition into the next movement “Chance Meeting.” This is mellow and pretty and reminds me a bit of Marillion. It gives way to a new balladic section which serves as the backdrop for the next vocals. It works up to a rocking section that has a modern sound and hints of Pink Floyd. We are taken in some new directions as the cut continues. Piano heralds the shift into the next movement “On My Own.” It grows for a short time and then drops back to just piano. From there they rise up in this new musical journey. At times this reminds me of some of something from 90125 era Yes – mainly “Cinema.” As the vocals join, this is all Spock’s Beard, though. As they continue we get some scorching instrumental work later. The piano again serves to move us into the next movement, “Start Over Again.” This section comes in with mellow balladic sounds of the vocals placed over the keyboards. I can hear bits of the Beatles on this section, too. Eventually it grows out into a soaring progressive rock jam from there. 
The Quiet House
They bring this in as a hard rocking prog jam. It works through some awesome changes and alterations as they continue. This becomes quite a soaring progressive rock number. This becomes quite a thrill ride as they move us through a series of changes. It doesn’t change drastically, but instead works like a bunch of minor variants on the pounding arrangement. That is, for the first four minutes or so. Then it drops to just keyboards and the vocals come in over the top of that. They build it up gradually from there with layers of vocals coming in and the music getting more instruments and emotional intensity. Around the six and a half minute mark they power it back out to more hard rocking music again, as we’re brought back to a version of the earlier musical motifs. That section serves well to take the track out. 
Their Names Escape Me
This comes in with a playful symphonic, world music kind of element. It has a dramatic and powerful sound. This cut takes us into different worlds as it continues. In many ways it’s another that isn’t really typical Spock’s Beard. It’s also one of my favorite pieces on show here. I love the musical textures represented. Around the three minute mark they power this out into an incredibly poignant movement. It doesn’t stay around long, though. Instead they crescendo and drop it back down to a balladic sound to begin building up in a style that’s similar to vintage Genesis, but with more of a symphonic air. The cut serves to give credit to a number of people who pre-ordered the disc as their names are all cited in the lyrics. 
The Man Behind the Curtain
A bombastic classic progressive rock movement opens this up and they work through that until it drops down for the vocals. As it powers up from there this is quite theatrical but also very powerful. Later it drops for an acoustic guitar based ballad approach that’s folky and playful. As they bring it up from there I hear hints of Celtic music. Then we’re moved out into a spacey sort of section before they bring it back to Earth with a killer bass driven movement. Eventually it is brought full circle to a fiery version of the earlier sounds to carry it for a time. An acoustic guitar and vocal ballad mode ends it.
Jaws of Heaven
Another multipart epic (almost sixteen and a half minutes in length) closes the disc. This starts with “Homesick for the Ashes.” It begins with acoustic guitar and vocals and some other elements as minor augmentation. This has a powerfully emotional feeling to it. A classical piano treatment rises up after this opening motif has ended and brings us into the next movement, “Words of War.” The other instruments join and they take it onward from there. Each member makes his presence known, but for me Dave Meros’ bass with this winding, rather funky element really steals the show on this section. Of course, I am a recovering bass player. As it moves out to the next vocal section it takes on a rather fusion-like sound with the bass really driving it. There’s a killer keyboard dominated fusion-like instrumental section later. They aren’t done reinventing, though, as they take us through a number of changes and revisions of this movement. It gets incredibly fiery at times. A Keith Emerson-like synthesizer section takes us into the next movement - "Deep in the Wondering." The band continue in a supporting role at first and at times I’m reminded of Genesis, at other points Yes. This gets quite symphonic in its scale and is extremely potent. They drop it to a balladic movement that’s pretty. It reminds me just a bit of The Doors, but also of Going for the One era Yes. As this builds up, the comparisons to Yes are even more appropriate. This is such an evocative piece of music. They take us out into a Genesis like jam with some Jean-Luc Ponty thrown in for good measure from there. The final movement, “Whole Again” is an instrumental one, so this might be part of it. Where ever it actually breaks, though, this becomes an incredibly moving piece of music as it’s built upward in symphonic ways. I can’t imagine a better way to end the disc in style.
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