Artist: Liquid Tension Experiment
Album Title: LTE3
Label: 16 April 2021
Date of Release: InsideOut Music
Ah, Liquid Tension Experiment. The band that plays the kind of music that I’d normally consider to be my nemesis. I’m a huge fan of progressive music, but I’ve always struggled with instrumental prog, where there’s a huge emphasis on the technical abilities of the musicians involved. I’m coming around in my older age to instrumental music as a whole, but when it is an exercise in musical gymnastics at the expense of great songs, I still have a hard time enjoying it.
However, there are two reasons that led me here to this review. Firstly, it has been twenty years or thereabouts since the ‘supergroup’ quartet of guitarist John Petrucci (Dream Theater), keyboardist Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), drummer Mike Portnoy (Sons Of Apollo, Transatlantic, Neil Morse Band), and bassist Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) released an album under the LTE name. I therefore felt I owed them a shot.
Secondly, having given them a shot by checking out the first song released off the album, ‘The Passage Of Time’ and I’ll admit to feeling the egg drip down my face. I was expecting enough noodling to open up my own restaurant, or start my own Pot Noodle spin-off. And whilst there is plenty of virtuosity within the track, from all four corners, I was surprised and impressed in equal measure by the cohesion of the song, as well as the strong melodic intent evident throughout. ‘The Passage Of Time’ is a song. Ok, it is dripping with solos, clever intricate beats, flamboyant embellishments and occasionally it feels like there are a hundred things going on at once. But all of this is tempered by strong melody and enough light and shade to keep things interesting. The guys know how to play, that goes without saying. But on this song, they understand when to hold back and let the basics do the talking.
For all the positives within this first track, one song does not make an album. How many times have we bought an album based on the lead single, only to find that the rest of the disc is complete dross? Nevertheless, with an eagerness to hear what these accomplished musicians had come up with, I dived in.
The first composition is entitled ‘Hypersonic’ and boy is that an apt name for it. Instrumental prog albums are not meant to attack the listener are they? Well ‘Hypersonic’ does its best to do just that, with a breath-taking opening sequence that sprints out of the speakers like a party of small children hyped up on sugar and excitement. The speed is notable and rather thrilling, as we’re treated to an electric welcome as if two decades haven’t really passed. The song soon settles down into a slightly slower rhythm, but it still bounces around with palpable energy and barely-contained enthusiasm, each musician given the room to breathe and exert their talents to the fullest. The lead guitar solos that bring with them some lovely melodies are a highpoint for me, but in all honesty, I enjoy just about every minute.
My favourite two songs come next and they couldn’t be more different. ‘Beating The Odds’ comes out of the blocks with a bluesy, groovy intro riff and displays a bright and breezy playful side, particularly enhanced by the cheeky bass of Levin alongside the colourful keys of Rudess. And then comes the ‘chorus’ melody if there is such a thing where LTE are concerned. It is stunning and is easily my favourite melody line on the entire album, granted extra gravitas by the deftness, touch and feel provided by the fingers of Mr Petrucci. I also like the expressive drumming from Portnoy whilst the guitar does its thing. At this point, it’s hard to deny the magic that can be produced when these two are in the same room together.
By contrast, ‘Liquid Evolution’ is a three-minute piece that allows the quartet to take stock briefly and remove the foot from the accelerator…or hyperdrive button. The tones used by Rudess give the composition a vaguely Oriental feel, whilst Levin comes into his own, lacing the song with some authoritative and beautifully-played notes. Of course there’s another lead guitar solo from Petrucci but it’s stunning and actually quite moving. In fact, the entire song is an unexpectedly emotional affair and it’s a glorious counterpoint to the furious technicality featured elsewhere.
‘Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey’ is another track I should hate, but find myself being drawn to. It’s a duet between drums and bass that displays the incredible ability of both throughout. Some of the sounds that Levin can create with his bass are extraordinary and the first half of the track is pure avant-garde weirdness. But once Portnoy enters with a solid beat, I can’t help but listen intently, loving the dark, almost evil-sounding bass notes towards the end.
I must say that ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ is my low point of the record. There are some great virtuosic moments within this cover version and to deride it entirely would be unfair. But as much as I like classical music (I really do), this Gershwin piece has never been something I’ve enjoyed. I simply don’t like it and no matter how it is dressed up, it still remains a piece of music I don’t warm to. And, at over thirteen minutes, it is way too long. I’d have much preferred a shorter original piece than this if I’m honest. Of course there will be plenty of fans that love this cover and will lap it up, but it’s just not for me I’m afraid.
The Rudess/Petrucci duet ‘Shades Of Hope’ is a nice piece, with rich keys complimenting the sorrowful guitar notes, both delivered with the precision and ability you’d expect from two consummate professionals. However, it doesn’t grab me the way that I want it to. It feels a little twee, a little too Disney or Hallmark for my tastes.
The final composition is entitled ‘Key To The Imagination’ and it redresses the balance for me. It’s a thirteen-minute song that covers all of the ground you’d expect from Liquid Tension Experiment. It is a slow-burner, building from humble beginnings to ultimately leave us with a truly epic crescendo. Along the way we’re treated to some properly chunky, heavy riffs, a myriad of different sounds from Rudess, plenty of Portnoy’s trademark flamboyance and genuine musicality from Levin’s bass. If it’s missing anything, it’s the killer melody or hook that featured in previous songs. Nevertheless, you can’t argue with the sense of increased urgency or the drama that’s created as the track progresses, all the while underpinned by insane technical ability that is beyond the comprehension of most of us mere mortals.
When I started listening to ‘LTE3’, I was well aware that I was in no way the target audience for this record, given my misgivings for instrumental prog and fusion. However, I have to give Messrs Portnoy, Petrucci, Levin, and Rudess a huge amount of credit because they have finally made me into a fan. I have listened to this record at high volume, low volume, on headphones, and a few different sets of speakers. Each time I have found the experience highly enjoyable and rewarding, with something new to discover each time. Regardless of whether you’re normally a fan of instrumental progressive rock, I heartily recommend that you give it a go because this is the pinnacle of what the genre has to offer.
The Score of Much Metal: 88%
Further reviews from 2021:
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: