Review Summary: Threshold are one of those bands you could call a “hidden gem” of a band. Sure, the music isn’t the most technical or groundbreaking, but it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.
‘Long’. ‘Pretentious’. ‘Wankery’. These are just a few of the words regularly used to describe the genre of Progressive Metal. I don’t tend to agree with these statements most of the time as I am a big fan of the genre, but I can see where in a lot of the cases, they are correct (Dream Theater’s Systematic Chaos, Mars Volta’s Amputechture.)
Every once in a while though, I discover a little known band on my wild searches for new music that not only satisfies my progressive urge but also is non pretentious, catchy, with near to no ‘wankery’ and thoughtful lyrics.
One of these bands is ‘Threshold’, a true hidden gem.
Threshold were formed in 1988 covering bands such as Ratt and Testament. As they grew in skill, they eventually starting producing their own material, which consequently led to signing a record deal and then to producing their first full length album.
Over the years, Threshold have produced eight albums, all of varying quality but no real stinkers. Amongst the best of them are Wounded Land, Hypothetical and Critical Mass.
On Critical Mass, Threshold were:
Andrew “Mac” McDermott – Vocals
Karl Groom – Lead guitar
Nick Midson – Rhythm guitar
Jon Jeary – Bass
Johanne James – Drums
Richard West – Keyboards
So, let’s take a plunge into the album.
We open with an eerie sounding build up for 10 seconds or so, and then pounded as suddenly the guitars, drums and electronic sounding keyboard come in, something that will be present throughout the entire album, giving the album a modern touch.
The album itself is nothing groundbreaking. Simply put, the band just play quality consistent music throughout, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, some listeners may be turned off if they are looking for fresh sounds. The guitars are solid – varying between emotional at times and meaty, ‘chuggy’ riffs, the vocals soar and the keyboards underlay the music nicely to enhance the sound. Drums, unfortunately, are nothing special, but they’re still varied enough to carry the listeners interest and the bass basically follows the guitar but at least it can be heard (something of a rarity in modern metal nowadays).
Firstly, on a positive note, the guitars and keyboards are both great and are the true highlight of the album. Guitarists Karl Groom and Nick Midson quickly prove their skill with the very first track “Phenomenon”, with meaty riffs, a cool acoustic section and a neat solo. Which brings me to another point - the solos. Every guitar solo is brilliant, full to the brim with heart, emotion, and, when needed, speed. Despite this, Groom never goes over the top with his solos, knowing when to stop before they become pointless and self indulgent. For an example of a great solo, check out the slow, melodic solo at around the 7 min mark on “Critical Mass” which gradually builds over its 2 min running time.
On “Falling Away”, Groom and Midson uses their skills to build the song up to a powerful climax, making the guitars cry with passion at times. Groom and Midson also excel at creating nice little progressive licks such as the few in the slower ballad like “Avalon”, one of my favourites off the album, which is enhanced by the backing keyboard.
The keyboards themselves play a large part on this album, and it’s mainly the classical sounding keyboard, except for the instances where electronic sounds are used to beef up the sound. “Avalon” is also a great example of this, as well as the powerful and melodic “Falling Away”, and the opening of “Phenomenon”. With Threshold, the keyboard is certainly just as important as the guitar, and Richard West certainly does a commendable job.
In terms of vocals, “Mac” does a great job with his strong voice, most notably on “Falling Away” and “Critical Mass” and he has a soaring, powerful voice that shows a range of emotions not only over the album but over each song.
As for bass, as I said before, it mainly just follows the guitars and drums, but it does shine thorough at times such as the opening of the chuggy, heavier “Round and Round” and a nice bass solo at the start of “Fragmentation”. Jon Jeary does a good enough job but it would have been nice if he’d done a bit more, although the bass is definitely there throughout the album and can be heard well. The same argument goes for drums, there are good, even great moments and the drumming is very tight but they sound a bit samey most of the time. A good job is done by Johanne James, no doubt, but this guy is no Portnoy.
Now for the slight negatives, although they don’t really affect the album too much in my opinion. Firstly, the drums and bass could have been a bit fancier, as mentioned before, but I’m glad they decided to underdo it rather than overdo it for the sake of it, showing that they care about the music rather than just showing off their skill. The lyrics are the worst problem here, though. Most of the lyrics are scientific and almost seem too plain ‘nerdy’ at times to relate to and be interesting, which at times makes the album drag. This is a shame as the vocalist “Mac” seems to inject genuine emotion into his vocals, showing a good vocal range throughout the album.
Taken as a whole, though, Critical Mass is a great album. It may not be for everyone, but the guitars and the keyboards work brilliantly together (providing some superb solos), the bass is audible and the drumming is tight, even though it’s not that technical. The lyrics do have a tendency to drag the album at times and they’re not too easy to relate to, but vocalist “Mac” makes up for this by a strong vocal performance.
So, they you have it. Threshold are one of those bands you could call a “hidden gem” of a band. They’ve had a fairly consistent career since 1988 producing quality progressive metal, and yet they’re still barely known to the average Joe. Sure, the music isn’t the most technical or groundbreaking, but it’s worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.