THRESHOLD — Dead Reckoning (review)

THRESHOLD — Dead Reckoning album cover Album · 2007 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
When you hear about a band wanting to “streamline” their sound, that’s usually not a good sign; at least, it isn’t good if that band has been making some of the most substantial progressive metal around for the last 15 years. Let’s face it: there was nothing wrong with the Threshold approach to prog metal before this album, so a slightly stripped-down formula might have been cause for concern among fans of the band. But once again, Threshold’s professionalism eliminates any doubt about their future, and when combined with a more modern sound, actually produces their best effort yet.

The excellent Slipstream makes for the perfect album opener in regards to Threshold’s little makeover. Everything that’s changed is all right here: heavier riffage, shorter songs, more basic song structures, and even some death growls (courtesy of Dan Swano). Even though they’ve always been known for making progressive metal accessible, the music on Dead Reckoning takes that to a whole new level; before, Dream Theater’s Awake would have been the first album I would show to someone new to the genre, but now I’m not so sure. There’s very little in the way of build-up or mood-setting in the tracks on here, making Dead Reckoning quite easy (for progressive metal, anyway) to jump right into.

The beauty of all of this is…it’s still Threshold! This means classy musicianship and inspiring lyrics. Andrew “Mac” McDermott gives arguably his best (and unfortunately, his last) offering on vocals, belting out vocal lines that that are both catchy and emotional. As usual, there are no wasted notes, as both Karl Groom and Richard West make full use of their instruments without overdoing it even once. Songs like Hollow, for instance, showcase the band’s impeccable ability to add tasteful melodies to things that would be quite standard otherwise. I’m talking about the “little things”: a guitar lick where most bands would just lay down power chords, a keyboard doodle here and some atmospheric effects there. The songwriting here is just amazingly coherent and solid. This holds true on the longer songs, too; I have a hard time finding a better 1-2 punch in the band’s discography than Pilot in the Sky of Dreams and Fighting for Breath. And just as Slipstream introduces the album in fine fashion, One Degree Down closes it out beautifully with one of the best outros you’ll ever hear. The whole album just seems so complete and well thought-out, and the fact that’s it’s performed by some of the best musicians around makes it that much more impressive.

If there’s anything to gripe about, it’s Swano’s growls, which are out of place and fairly useless when you compare them with the rest of the music. But aside from that, Dead Reckoning is an absolutely fantastic listen. Its remarkable combination of modern elements with the familiar Threshold style of play should make it enjoyable for almost anyone. Needless to say, it’s nice to see a band that’s able to make some changes and still keep faithful to what makes them so good in the first place.
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