There is an exhilarating moment of revelation, approximately 3:30 into Stars and Satellites (Track 5), where the building crescendo in the wall of sound abruptly halts, leaving just an isolated keyboard and echoed vocal accompanied by a simple bass line, perfectly framed and accentuated by the silence. Fifteen seconds later the most glorious guitar solo penetrates and swells to fill the soundscape followed, 30 seconds later, by the arrival of an exquisite layered harmony which enthrals, embraces and carries you away.
The experience is richly suffused with significant resonances. Fans will immediately identify with the archetypal ‘signature’ Threshold sound it evokes. More importantly, however, they will forge clear links with the charged intensity of Subsurface (2004) and the driving energy of Dead Reckoning (2007). After the relatively simpler approach and heavier direction taken by their previous release For the Journey (2014), the band appear to have deliberately mined the musical resources of their back catalogue and rekindled the creative fire and the exuberant spirit of earlier times. It is an experience which feels, literally, like coming home.
Legends of the Shires is deeply ambitious, not just in terms of being a double album but precisely because it joyfully explores layers of progressive complexity and delights in the new found emotional excitement and expressiveness which it affords. Thoughtful echoes of the inventive depths scaled by the iconic ‘Pilot in the Sky of Dreams’ (Dead Reckoning) and ‘Ground Control’ (Subsurface) find invigorating focus and absorbing vibrancy in songs which are elegantly intricate and intelligently crafted.
Even a casual glance at the track listing indicates the majority of songs exceed five minutes; The Man Who Saw Through Time (Track 3) weighs in at 11.51, Lost in Transition (Track 13) at 10.20, Trust the Process (Track 4) at 8.44 and Stars and Satellites at 7.20. Built around a structure of extended and continuous song writing, the album clearly displays a more natural approach which has been carefully refined and lovingly crafted. Complex song structures, the frequent changes of tempo, shifting rhythms and transient moods reflect a refined ‘craft’ being brought bear, a compositional art which holds everything that is best about Threshold together in a wonderfully organic balance.
Yet this is no mere imitation of or slavish return to the past. Far from it. The band state that Legends of the Shires marks the beginning of “a new chapter” in their musical journey, one where “we’ve gone much deeper and we’ve been much more progressive”. Such an assured statement of intent is supported in part by the openness created by the extended song format, the new found freedom to break out of conventional restrictions and the confidence to stretch out and go beyond previous releases in playing with a variety of ideas, sounds and influences.
But it is also confirmed in much larger part by the enhancements the band have brought to the album which clearly point to a more refined sound, a greater finesse to the writing that allows a more enriched and intense musical experience to emerge. What strikes you immediately is the greater role played at all levels by the keyboards which really do infuse and permeate the music both in terms of having more prominence as a solo instrument as well as providing layer after layer of luscious textures contrasted with emphatic, supporting interventions.
These often set the stage for some of the most gorgeous melodies and frequent multi-layered harmonies you have ever heard on a Threshold album. Returning singer Glynn Morgan brings the perfect voice to lead and expose every nuance and every refinement in what is a thrilling and remarkable vocal performance. The sparkling mix provides greater separation and clarity of the instruments which in turn delivers a cleaner, more muscular sound which throws all the combined complexity into sharper relief. And even then, you will still need to listen carefully in order to catch the hidden delights and clever surprises.
Legends of the Shires is an outstanding achievement and easily the best album Threshold have ever created. Exploring deep seated and even political concerns with how we find our place in the world and the ways in which we relate to others, it conveys an inspired musical experience that hopefully marks a turning point in their sometimes turbulent story. It radiates imagination, exudes inventiveness and presents a triumphant tour de force in terms of an organic musical vision which flows with energy, bite and a compelling natural momentum. Mesmerising, at times spell-binding, it is well worth a listen.
1. The Shire (Part 1) (2:03)
2. Small Dark Lines (5:24)
3. The Man Who Saw Through Time (11:51)
4. Trust The Process (8:44)
5. Stars And Satellites (7:20)
6. On The Edge (5:20)
7. The Shire (Part 2) (5:24)
8. Snowblind (7:03)
9. Subliminal Freeways (4:51)
10. State Of Independence (3:37)
11. Superior Machine (5:01)
12. The Shire (Part 3) (1:22)
13. Lost In Translation (10:20)
14. Swallowed (3:54)
Steve Anderson – bass
Karl Groom – guitars
Johanne James – drums
Glynn Morgan – vocals
Richard West – keyboards
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: 08.09.2017
CD1: Track 01-06
CD2: Track 07-14
Format: CD; Vinyl
Nuclear Blast Records: www.nuclearblast.de/threshold
This review originally appeared for The Progressive Aspect