Contrary to what some people might think, top notch progressive rock did not descend into a shame spiral after the 1970s never again to see the light of day. It is a sub-genre that has survived for nearly fifty years and somehow continues produce surprises all around the world every year. It has always been a niche market populated by a small, discerning crowd but that never stopped bands from passionately pushing themselves to ever more creative frontiers. One of these bands is California’s Spock’s Beard, a prolific band that’s been on the prog scene for more than 20 years, presenting a more subtle style of prog that comes with a tangible songwriting ethos. 2015 sees the release of the band’s full-length number twelve The Oblivion Particle, a sixty six minute feast of soaring keyboards, retro synths, intelligent drumming and very catchy main riffs and vocals.
Spock’s Beard doesn’t do the kind of emotive, cathartic prog one would associate with the likes of Pain of Salvation or Gazpacho. This is quite accessible yet still high IQ stuff; in the vein of Yes and Rush, a band much admired by the Heavy Blog staff as the recent ‘starter kit’ post attests. There’s a deep understanding of balance on The Oblivion Particle when it comes to the musicianship as no instrument singlehandedly takes over any given track. The interplay among the guitars, keyboard and bass is always open and whenever it’s someone’s time to shine, the rest of the band melds together to form a single coherent unit.
‘Minion‘ is a perfect example this balance where the bass keeps a strong hold on things as the vocals escalate the situation before the whacky guitar solo comes in. This is followed by ‘Hell Is Not Enough‘ which takes a lighter approach during the fragile verses as the bass and keyboard do most of the heavy lifting, then the drums let loose and join forces with the keyboards and take things to a whole new level. ‘Get Out While You Can‘ and ‘The Center Line‘ also display some smooth flow and clever bits of catchiness but the album’s main highlights are ‘Bennett Built a Time Machine‘ and ‘A Better Way to Fly‘. The former ebbs and flows brilliantly at a consistent pace and packs a lot of individual virtuosity while the latter conjures up some early King Crimson with all its dynamic transitions and shape shifting. In addition, the rather simplistic and seemingly pedestrian vocals are the absolute opposite of what they may seem; they fit perfectly here.
The Oblivion Particle is certainly a refreshing album yet not one to be taken lightly. Given its hefty playtime and creative density, this is an album that will require, nay demand, several spins before sinking in and fully revealing its splendor. The ample space is used wisely on this record which eliminates any possibility of dragging on and losing the listener’s attention. The combination of quiet and loud segments, vocal counterpoints, instrumental virtuosity and stellar production creates a very well put together album with a slow release effect that can quickly become a favorite among many prog fans.