The tragic passing of Andrew “Mac” McDermott last year left quite a few people (myself included) in shock. Though he had left Threshold long before then, it was a disheartening wake-up call for those who had come to love the band’s landmark albums of the mid-2000s, as that lineup would never be seen again. Of course, being the pros that they are, Threshold had already begun work on their next album, and now that March of Progress has finally seen the light of day, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s glad they’ve decided to carry on.
If you’re a Threshold fan, then the music on March of Progress probably won’t seem too foreign; it’s true that Threshold hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel here, as many tracks on this album sound like they would be right at home on Dead Reckoning or Subsurface. Then again, if you’re a Threshold fan, chances are that doesn’t matter to you and you’re listening for highly polished, professional prog metal with a heavy emphasis on melody. Rest assured, just about everything that made Threshold’s previous works great is once again on display here in 2012.
What will probably be the most notable aspect on March of Progress are the vocals of Damian Wilson, who has re-joined the band after Mac’s passing. In comparison, Wilson sings in a much more operatic tone and has a charisma that won over a lot of people who listened to his previous guest performances (Ayreon, Star One, etc…but then, who hasn’t sung in an Arjen Lucassen project? Seriously), as well the earlier Threshold efforts featuring his voice. I must say that it will be a bit of a change for those used to hearing Mac’s vocals taking flight over Threshold’s sludgy guitar riffs, but in the end, if this record has a weakness, it’s no fault of Wilson’s; his singing here is easily up to par to whatever was expected of him. In fact, a few tracks into March of Progress, it’s hard to tell much of a difference at all; the vocal melodies are still top-notch and range from supplying a large array of hooks (the chorus of “Ashes” is just one of many examples) to majestically soaring (“Liberty, Complacency, Dependency”), all while carrying vintage Threshold messages of political protest and outcry.
Instrumentally, too, this is Threshold at its finest. Johane James might be the most unassuming prog metal drummer out there, but the dude hits his kit HARD and never overplays (something that I’m sure is appreciated by the detractors of so-called “wankery” out there). Karl Groom and Richard West are, as always, the dependable duo of songwriting, consistently putting out well-structured tunes that are rooted in strong melodies while still pushing the envelope technically. The interaction between the two is simply second to none. “The Hours” stands out almost immediately, filled with hooks and subtle texturing that might not stand out at first, but is bound to put some smiles on people’s faces once it does. Meanwhile, Wilson continues his workman-like effort behind the mic, delivering an emotional chorus and a seemingly endless supply of poetic lyrics (the inspiring “Don’t Look Down” is just fantastic in this regard), which should once again satisfy the “thinking men” of the metal crowd. It really can’t be stated enough how Threshold manages to draw all of these elements together on a consistent basis; while they’ve slowed their pace considerably since the ‘90s (their last album being released 5 years ago), they never fail to bring an abundance of material once recording time rolls around. In fact, if there’s anything negative to be said about March of Progress, it’s that it’s a couple of songs too long; they’re all good, but the album tends to drag on a bit in spite of how great the music is.
While it didn’t hit me as hard as Dead Reckoning did upon my first listen, March of Progress undoubtedly delivers the same goods that prog fans have been expecting from Threshold for the past decade and a half. It’s classy, well-produced, and mature; none of which should be surprising, but will be delightfully devoured by metalheads and progheads all the same. Another winner by the boys from Britain!