THRESHOLD — Subsurface (review)

THRESHOLD — Subsurface album cover Album · 2004 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Diogenes
Progressive metal is an acquired taste for a lot of people. Those coming from a more extreme metal background might be put off by the long songs, instrumental interludes, and craploads of time changes (I CAN’T HEADBANG TO 7/8 GRRRR), and that’s all fine and good. However, the populace should at least be aware that not all prog bands these days are Dream Theater clones, and yet they still retain their progressive qualities. Yes, it’s possible, folks! Threshold are living proof of it.

What we have on Subsurface is an extremely accessible and polished progressive metal album. This is made apparent right off the bat with album opener Mission Profile, which has pretty much everything you’ll be hearing in the next hour: catchy guitar melodies, soaring leads and solos, excellent vocals dishing out some thoughtful lyrics, and some of the best keyboard work I’ve heard in a while. Oh, and the chorus. It’s freaking amazing, guys. Take what you thought was a memorable metal chorus and throw it out the window. It’s really really good!

Most of the songs on the album have more of the same. Although they all vary in structure and length (this is prog, after all), there’s a part in every one of them to get you hooked. The keyboard opener of Ground Control, the melodic lead of Opium…wherever you look, there’s a hook (mad rhymes!). There are guitar hooks. There are keyboard hooks. There are vocal hooks. This is the main aspect that separates Subsurface from most prog metal albums; it’s so catchy that you can’t help but listen to it, no matter how unorthodox the music is in theory. Even the 11-minute track, The Art of Reason, is a relatively easy listen, and ballads aren’t lame, either. As far as song consistency goes, there aren’t really any BAD ones, although in my humble opinion, the first half of the album is more memorable than the second half.

As for the lineup, well, vocalist Andrew “Mac” McDermott is a great singer. His voice is clean and ear-friendly, and he sings with plenty of emotion. The places where he really shines are the parts where his vocals are layered (no choirs here, thank you), increasing the catchiness factor once again. Unfortunately, this man is no longer in the band, but thanks to his performance here, I will definitely be checking out any future projects he is a part of. Likewise, lead guitarist Karl Groom does his job more than competently, crafting plenty of tasteful, melodic guitar leads; he can obviously shred your face off, but stick within the flow of the music, which is commendable. Still, the instrument that makes this album is the keyboard. Keyboard lovers pay attention, because the keys are an absolutely joy to listen to here. Richard West shows off a large array of effects, whether it be industrial humming, sparkling, or the occasional lead. And, once again, he never hogs the spotlight, despite being an integral part of the mix. In a world where there are countless keyboardists trying to become the next Rudess, West’s keyboards are a breath of fresh air.

One thing I found while listening to Subsurface is how good the lyrics are. In a word, they’re phenomenal. Usually, you’d expect more mature lyrics themes from a prog band, and this album is example 1A. Issues with the world and humanity in general are what Mac sings about, and frankly, it’s hard to disagree with him. Go over the lyrics to Opium, and you’ll think twice before you waste your whole day in front of the tube. Check it:

“Our lifeless generation is going to the wall A languid demonstration of daze before a fall A preconceived condition imagined long ago But will we ever know all that lies below”

Those are some very powerful words right there. I’m not even kidding. You don’t see this every day in metal. I know, I know, if you want poetry, then go read a book. But I really appreciate lyrics like these.

If I had to pick a word to describe Subsurface, it would be “professional”. You just get the idea that these guys are professional musicians, wanting nothing more than to write professional music (especially including the excellent lyrics). No wankery. No wasted notes. Just solid progressive metal. This, in my humble opinion, is how progressive metal should be done: metal that is progressive. Wow, no shit, you say! I couldn’t word it any better than that…my apologies. If this help any, here’s what Subsurface isn’t: jazz-metal-fusion, progressive rock with metal tendencies, Liquid Tension Experiment with vocals, a metal band with a few time changes saying “HEY LOOK WE’RE PROG!” or any of that. Let me tell you, if Subsurface was everyone’s first exposure to the progressive metal genre, I think a lot of people would have different opinions on it. Most, if not all, of the prog stereotypes are shot down here. You don’t like stereotypes, do you? No, of course not. Threshold do progressive metal right, and you need to look no further than Subsurface to get an idea of what it’s all about.
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Diogenes wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Thank you for the comment. Why is that?
cennsor wrote:
more than 2 years ago
very nice review! with mac they really were great (you might be a bit disappointed by what he's doing in his other projects though).

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