THRESHOLD — Dividing Lines (review)

THRESHOLD — Dividing Lines album cover Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
lukretion
British prog metal masters Threshold are back with their 12th studio album Dividing Lines, released on November 18th via Nuclear Blast. This is their second LP after singer Glynn Morgan – who had already appeared on Threshold’s sophomore album Psychedelicatessen in 1994 – made a return to the band’s ranks, replacing Damian Wilson. The rest of the line-up is unchanged compared to the band’s previous record Legends of the Shire. Karl Groom and Richard West lead the charge armed with guitar and keyboards, respectively. As usual, the pair penned much of the material included on the new record, although there are also notable contributions by Morgan, who injected fresh blood into the band’s songwriting department (more on this later). The line-up is completed by Johanne James (drums) and Steve Anderson (bass), forming a time-tested rhythm section for nearly 20 years now.

The band presented Dividing Lines as the “darker, moodier brother” of Legends of the Shire and the description is quite accurate: while Legends was a sprawling, double-disc progressive rock tour-de-force, Dividing Lines marks a return to a heavier and more compact sound that has characterized much of the band’s output in the new millenium. Prog rock aficionados need not worry, though: there is plenty of sophisticated progressive goodness running through the album’s 64 minutes, including distinct references to the 1980s neo-prog sound of bands like Marillion and Arena. This is probably the aspect of Dividing Lines that I found most satisfying: the album is a masterwork of balance as heavy prog metal riffage and aggression are combined with lighter prog rock arrangements and soft, emotional melodies, masterfully interpreted by Morgan’s expressive and resonant voice. The singer also contributed to the songwriting with a handful of tracks that hint towards modern metal influences (the faint growls emerging underneath the cleans in the chorus of “Let It Burn”, the massive vocal hooks in “King of Nothing” and “Run”). These influences also emerge more generally in West’s futuristic keyboard sound, in the crisp, vocal-driven production, and in the streamlined song structures that never stray far away from a simple verse-chorus form.

This was a surprise for me, as I tend to associate Threshold with a more traditionally progressive form of metal, in a similar camp as Ayreon / Star One, Queensrÿche or Fates Warning. To their credit, Threshold pull off this modernist spin majestically – and this comes from someone who is not a big fan of the modern metal fad in the first place. Threshold’s secret weapon lies in the exceptional songwriting and arrangements. Simply put, Dividing Lines contains a handful of songs that can be considered career highlights for the band. “Hall of Echoes”, “Let It Burn”, “Run” and the long-form epic “Defence Condition” offer a mighty testament to Threshold’s extraordinary ability to tread a fine line between complexity, heaviness, technical playing, and melodic accessibility. The hooks are absolutely exhilarating, but the songs also possess strong replay value thanks to the intelligent arrangements and interesting dynamics. I am particularly fond of the depth and subtlety in the arrangements, with keyboards and guitars playing off one another to create an ever-changing, multi-layered sonic background that ensures the music never feels monotonous or repetitive. The playing is also sublime, with strong solos by both Groom and West, plenty of powerful grooves by the rhythmic duo Anderson-James, and a superb performance by Glynn Morgan, who sounds like a man at the highest point in his career.

My only gripe with Dividing Lines is that the songwriting quality drops somewhat halfway through the album. The first four songs are excellent, but things start to fall through with the first long-form epic track included on the LP, “The Domino Effect”: the melodies here feel slightly phoned-in and predictable, which makes the song seem longer than it actually is. The subsequent tracks “Complex” and “King of Nothing” also fail to leave a strong impression. Things start to look up again with “Lost Along the Way”, although its very overt soft neo-prog influences are somewhat at odds with the more metallic nature of the rest of the album. Fortunately, Dividing Lines closes mightily strong with two of its best tracks, “Run” and “Defence Condition”, whose magnificence makes me forget the somewhat pedestrian 25 minutes that preceded them.

Despite the slight mid-flight turbulence, Dividing Lines stands out as one of the best albums by the British progsters, as well as one of the most accomplished melodic prog metal releases of the year. The album may not break any new ground, but when the quality of the songwriting is as high as on some of the tracks included here, it would be foolish to complain. Album after album, Threshold continue to perfect their special blend of melodic power metal and progressive rock, and on Dividing Lines they have found a way of expression that is at times utterly breath-taking. The album is the sound of a band riding a creative peak at the height of their compositional powers: if you are a prog metal fan, you’d be a fool not to ride along.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]
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Nightfly wrote:
7 days ago
Damn, I have to wait until late January for my pre-ordered vinyl version. Had a listen on Spotify and sounded promising though.
Pekka wrote:
9 days ago
I had sort of forgotten about Threshold since the excellent Subsurface but Legends of the Shires brought be back, one of the best double albums I have heard. This was not as instantly hooky on the first listen so far, but I'll get back to it soon.

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