Artist: Spock’s Beard
Album Title: Noise Floor
Label: InsideOut Music
Date Of Release: 25 May 2018
To say that I liked ‘The Oblivion Particle’ is a bit of an understatement. To quote my review of Spock’s Beard’s 12th album released in 2015:
‘Frankly, I’m not entirely sure that ‘classic’ melodic progressive rock can get much better than this. I shall wait to be proven wrong of course but in the meantime, as far as I’m concerned, this will sit at the very pinnacle of the genre.’
I wasn’t proved wrong as it happens, because that record confidently nestled within my year-end top 20 and I still find it infiltrating my playlist when a dose of melodic progressive rock is the required tonic. I was therefore all over this record from the moment I heard it was on the way. Unfortunately, a new career temporarily derailed any chance of getting this review out prior to its release. However, that didn’t mean that I didn’t find the time to listen intently to ‘Noise Floor’, the thirteenth studio release from these veterans of the prog rock scene. As a result, I’ve had plenty of time to digest the material contained within the eight songs and fifty-plus minutes running time.
And my conclusion? Let’s put it this way: the consistency of this band is incredible, as is their quality control system, whatever that might be in practice. The enjoyment that I experienced with ‘The Oblivion Particle’ is almost entirely matched by ‘Noise Floor’, which means that the quintet have produced another super album.
The quintet in question is almost entirely the same as well. As such, guitarist Alan Morse, keyboardist Ryo Okumoto, bassist Dave Meros and lead vocalist Ted Leonard are all present and correct. The only change in the line-up sees the departing drummer Jimmy Keegan replaced by original sticksman Nick D’Virgilio. I am a fan of both and, as expected, D’Virgilio puts in a great performance. It means that the group don’t miss a beat as a result of the personnel change, the first for seven years or more…if you’ll excuse the entirely deliberate pun.
As with ‘The Oblivion Particle’ before it, what I really enjoy about ‘Noise Floor’ is the way that the music is immediately welcoming; there is a warmth to the compositions as well as a playful exuberance that means that you connect with the songs very quickly despite the high levels of technicality and complexity on offer throughout. In terms of the technicality, this is channelled through the individual performances manifesting themselves in extended solos and instrumental passages rather than being demanding compositionally, although this is a factor at times. I think that this also explains some of the immediacy with the material too.
I’m not certain that ‘Noise Floor’ is quite as ‘heavy’ as ‘The Oblivion Particle’ but nevertheless, it is not a wimpy prog rock album. The guitars of Alan Morse possess enough bite to ensure that my metal side is sufficiently satisfied, whilst D’Virgilio and Meros combine very nicely to offer a muscular spine. On that note, it is great to report that Meros’ bass is not lost in the mix either. In 2018, this should never be a criticism of progressive music, but the fact that I’m so pleased about its demonstrable presence here, means that it remains an issue too often for my liking.
The only criticism I could level at Spock’s Beard would be that ‘Noise Floor’ doesn’t offer up any surprises. But then again, I don’t generally think of this as a negative, especially when their output is generally of such a high standard. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, as the old saying goes. And that’s exactly case here.
Lead single ‘To Breathe Another Day’ kicks off this record and it does so via the prominent and effervescent keys of Okumoto, who underlines his importance to the overall style of Spock’s Beard right from the off, producing a plethora of sounds, textures and experimental noises that sound fresh but also unmistakeably Spock’s Beard whether it is an accompaniment to the other musicians or as a flamboyant solo, of which there is a significant amount within this first song. Elsewhere, it is an up-tempo, energetic number that gets the blood flowing nicely. It benefits from a chorus and further melodic work that is sneaky in the way that it gets under your skin without you really noticing it, until you’re singing along with gusto.
‘What Becomes Of Me’ takes things down a notch, but retains a strong sense of melody and that aforementioned warmth, as well as my favourite intro on the record bizarrely enough. From there, there’s a strong symphonic feel, whilst the bass dances authoritatively. Morse adds some lovely lead guitar embellishments to the mix and Leonard underlines his credentials as one of my personal favourite vocalists in the genre. Whether it is delivered cleanly or with added effects, I find his voice genuinely compelling. I have always been a fan and this record does nothing but enhance my positive opinion.
My favourite track on ‘Noise Floor’ is, without a doubt the stunning ‘Somebody’s Home’. It starts off with an acoustic guitar and an overlaid melody which, when accented by the inclusion of an English Horn, sounds almost medieval. The bass is brilliant here, as is the slightly meandering feel of the song’s construction, which delivers a more pastoral feel overall. At its core though, it contains some of the most immediate and passionately-delivered melodies, particularly in the chorus which goes from groovy to soaring in the blink of an eye.
As we’ve come to expect from Spock’s Beard over the years, ‘Noise Floor’ is a remarkably consistent body of work where all of the eight compositions bring something interesting and enjoyable to the table. Be it the dark and gratifyingly heavy instrumental ‘Box of Spiders’ with its unabashed technicality and quirkiness or the majestic, occasionally bombastic and often funky-sounding ‘One So Wise’, there isn’t a let-up in the quality.
Fittingly, ‘Noise Floor’ concludes on a real high note, via ‘Beginnings’, a triumphant and euphoric composition that again brings with it plenty of melodic sensibilities. It is the memorable and rousing finale that this record required, and Spock’s Beard duly deliver.
And so it is tough for me to end this review in a significantly different manner to how I ended my review of ‘The Oblivion Particle’ three years ago. Indeed, ‘I’m not entirely sure that ‘classic’ melodic progressive rock can get much better than this.’ If you’re after professionally-crafted, progressive rock that is warm, inviting and with plenty of melody and tight-as-a-drum musicianship, you cannot go wrong with Spock’s Beard. They are the band that keeps on delivering, with ‘Noise Floor’ being their latest gift to a grateful prog world.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse