Review Summary: "Burnt into ash, ash into dust, aren't these the gods we trust?"
A disclaimer before I begin this review: I have the original pressing of this album, which does not have the tracks 'One Way Town' or 'Circus Without Clowns'. Also, the tracks are ordered differently on this version (for example, Monster is track 10 instead of track 2, and Where's Max is track 2 instead of track 12).
Progressive rock is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of music, mainly because of how people choose to interpret it. When a prog album is done well, it is heralded as a classic by legion upon legion of the band's loyal followers and in several cases, it becomes one of the defining albums of the genre (Operation: Mindcrime, Selling England, etc.). However, progressive music is infamous for being overly pretentious (at least in some people's eyes) due to its long instrumental passages which are often described as being technical just for the sake of being technical, and prog lyrics can honestly be quite laughable at times. So imagine my surprise when I discovered one of the most down-to-earth, normal prog bands it's ever been my pleasure of hearing, Boston quartet 3.
3 is famous in the progressive arena for creating music that is just as thought-provoking and intelligent as it is light and just fun to listen to. Their musical standpoint is a double-edged sword however, as their sometimes almost poppy sound often piles unnecessary criticism onto the band when this sound only enhances their already great music. Nowhere is this more apparent than on their third record, Wake Pig.
From the moment Wake Pig begins you know you're in for a hell of a ride. Opening track "Alien Angel" represents everything the band is about
: rumbling bass work, absolutely incredible electric-acoustic interplay, a crisp drum sound, and Joey Eppard's wailing vocals. Clocking in at less than 4 minutes, the song knows exactly what to do with the little time it's given and lays the groundwork for what will be an immensely satisfying record. Also, despite its undeniable progressive sound, the song follows a basic structure with a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus progression. Don't let this fool you though: the shuffling, bass-ridden instrumental 'Where's Max' will immediately throw you off with its unpredictable patterns and shifting meters: and all this in the opening six minutes of the record.
3's guitar sound is pure bliss, with lead vocalist Eppard handling the acoustics while lead guitarist Billy Riker shows off his signature electric leads. A great example of how well they work together would be the title track, featuring a beautiful acoustic line during the verses over a funky, cowbell-led beat, before Riker's guitar bellows out some chugging chords during the chorus and immediately changes the mood of the track, before regressing back into the dreamy mood from before in a manner similar to Rishloo's "Turning Sheep Into Goats". The guitar styles are extremely varied, from flamenco on "Dregs" to Eppard's blistering tap solos of instrumental "Bramfatura" and some laid-back alternative chords on album highlight "Trust", Eppard and Riker are never above throwing a curveball at their audience, which is what gives 3 their extremely loyal (albeit not too large) fan base.
Most of the tracks here are shorts bursts of energy, with the longest "Amazedisgrace" clocking in at 6 minutes (although there is an 8-minute hidden track tacked onto the end of it, along with 2 minutes of silence). In progressive music this is extremely uncommon: songwriters in the genre often need time to let their songs build, as progressive music is often slow-burning and extremely tense. This is not the case with 3: their style is loose and wild, with each song featuring a different kind of ridiculously bouncy bass groove that just makes you want to dance. Although 3 slows down with the double whammy of "Dogs of War" and "Soul To Sell" the rest of the album is uptempo and fun, which is how a good rock album should be. Every song (with the exception of "Bramfatura" which is just Eppard's acoustic) features outstanding, upbeat drum work by Chris Gartmann, called "Gartdrumm" by the band members. His beats are often shuffly, tom-heavy, and played at just the right volume so they don't sound lazy, but aren't too overbearing. The band's lyrics are nothing amazing, but they're definitely better than some other prog bands I've listened to which just go way over-the-top with their attempts to be groundbreaking (I won't mention any band names at the risk of starting a sh*tstorm).
Without a doubt the best song on this record is the breathtaking "Trust". I wasn't even gonna review this until I caught myself singing this song's amazing chorus in the shower about a week ago: it's an alt-rock gem that will get stuck in your head no matter how hard you try. Beginning with a simple acoustic progression, Gartmann comes in with an outstanding beat that compliments the bass and Riker's chugging metallic chords perfectly. Eppard guides the song's verses with his outstanding voice before leading it into one of the most amazing choruses I've heard in a while. When Eppard sings "they stopped digging for you long ago", I challenge you not to drop your jaw. It's not the most challenging thing to sing, but the way it fits with the music just makes it a truly blissful moment.
Now, after all this praise, you may be wondering why I scored this at a 3.5. And ladies and gentlemen (probably mostly gentlemen), the reason for that is that after "Trust", the album's quality takes a nosedive. After two filler tracks that were added solely because they're ballads (Dogs of War, Soul To Sell) we get an Alien Angel rehash called "Queen" and another slower track called "Monster" that does absolutely nothing with what it's given. The album drags to a finish with the unimpressive "Amazedisgrace" and an extremely boring 8-minute drum solo, which was a total letdown because of how great Gartmann played on the first 6 tracks. In short, Wake Pig is a pretty diverse experience with some amazing tracks and some not-so-amazing tracks, although you should listen to every single note on here just to get the true scope of what 3 is about.