This is my third Threshold album and the first that I will review. I started out with 'Dead Reckoning' and later bought 2012's 'March of Progress'. Interested in hearing their older material and reading that 'Hypothetical' came highly recommended, I ordered this album next.
First, allow me to comment briefly on the two latest releases. I first listened to samples of 'March of Progress' and was blown away by the guitar sound. If a progressive metal band sounded this awesome in the guitar department, they were good enough for me. Furthermore, I was not yet ready for the death growl vocals of many metal bands, so the clean vocals of Threshold appealed to me. But 'Dead Reckoning' was cheaper and after a quick listen I found the guitar sound was the same and bought that album instead. Now, 'MoP' ranks as the number 11 album of 2012 on the Prog Archives and other reviewers said 'DR' was not as good. So after a few listens to 'DR' and being only mildly impressed, I decided to go for 'MoP' which I personally found was quite similar.
So, how about this older album from 2001? The first thing I noticed was that there was a little more keyboard work featured here. The later albums seem to use keyboards mostly as a rhythm instrument and for some effects, and piano (or synth piano) for the mellower moments. 'Hypothetical' includes some synthesizer solos which, for me, makes them sound a little more progressive oriented than the later albums which sound more commercial. In the 80's, any metal band that added synthesizer was most likely trying to appeal to the mainstream market, and among my friends and I, the synthesizer was almost a dirty word. So if a band is going to have a keyboard player on board, he'd better have more to do that just play rhythm chords that soften the heavy impact of the guitars.
Second, I noticed that the guitar sound was a bit grittier with more crunch to it. As Threshold already had impressed me with their guitar sound, I welcomed this to my ears openly.
Still, though, when all was consumed and digested, I couldn't help but think that this older album was still very similar to the later albums, notwithstanding the change in vocals from 'DR' to 'MoP'. Threshold are similar to Fates Warning in that they are not as technically complex as Dream Theater and instead go progressive by creating longer compositions with tempo and mood changes and add in some odd drum beats (though I'd say Fates Warning do more with the odd drum beats from what I've heard). Also like Fates Warning, Threshold often stick to the soft verse/loud chorus routine except they mix it up by doing a hard verse/melodic chorus pattern sometimes. Threshold adds a lot of melodic parts to their songs to contrast with the grittier heavy parts, but in the end the clean vocals and synthesizer prevent them from ever becoming really really heavy. I am sure most metal heads in the 80's would have peed themselves over that monster guitar sound, but by today's standards being that raunchy and heavy is pretty well, well standard. Generally speaking, while there are progressive moments, much of the music is still fairly ordinary heavy metal with clean vocals and melodic parts.
The three songs that stand out for me are 'Ravages of Time', 'Long Way Home', and 'Keep My Head', with nods to 'Turn On, Tune In' and 'Narcissus'. 'Ravages' has some of that gritty crunchy power chord guitar and sounds rather aggressive at first. The lyrics start of dealing with a theme that is of interest to me: how a single location changes over time as in a sea bed becomes a mountain range, a mountain range a plain, a plain a desert, and so on. The first half of the song keeps me listening but I find my attention wanders through the second half. 'Long Way Home' has some great heavy guitar and elements of progressive metal as I identify it. 'Keep My Head' is a metal band's take on what could be a late 70's or early 80's adult contemporary pop song. Maybe Glenn Hughes has something like this on one of his 90's albums. A nice change of pace though possibly out of place in the opinions of some. 'Narcissus' has a powerful anthemic riff at the beginning in later in the song. The middle section where the band does a bit of musical mood exploration adds interest to a long song.
It's a good enough album and perhaps just a bit more interesting than the two most recent efforts, for me anyway. But honestly there's not much to my ears that separates 'Hypothetical' from 2001 from 'Dead Reckoning' from 2007 or 'March of Progress' from 2012. Actually, I don't see any real progress. One Threshold album is as good as another would be my conclusion. But I am sure that more devoted listeners can separate the wheat from the chaff, as reading the reviews suggests. At least I can say I won't have to think about writing reviews for the other two as my thoughts will be similar to what I have written here. Good music and good band. Nice to add songs to a playlist and maybe on a mixed CD. But nothing I feel compelled to tell my friends about.