American progressive rock band Spock’s Beard were formed in 1992 by brothers Neal Morse (lead vocals / keyboards) and Alan Morse (guitars), together with drummer Nick D’Virgilio and bassist John Ballard.
Following a change of bass players to Dave Meros the band released their debut album “The Light” in 1995, after which the band’s line-up expanded to include additional keyboardist Ryo Okumoto.
This configuration of Spock’s Beard released a further five studio albums together up to and including the double concept album “Snow” in 2002. Neal Morse’s conversion to Christianity prompted him the leave the band immediately after the release of “Snow” to enable him to fully express his new-found faith through solo work, with D’Virgilio taking on lead vocals as well as drums.
Four further albums followed until D’Virgilio himself quit the band in late 2011. He was replaced with new lead vocalist Ted Leonard and drummer Jimmy Keegan and the revised line-up released their first album together, titled “Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep”, in April 2013.
August 2015 saw the release of the band’s twelfth studio album, and second by the current line-up, “The Oblivion Particle”.
This is one of those albums that isn’t suited to many of the youth of today, not being something disposable that can be audibly consumed in bite size chunks. No, as with all good progressive rock this needs to be listened to in its entirety, and a good few times, before the various layers of what’s going on here really begin to reveal themselves.
That isn’t to say that this music is not accessible – it certainly is as there as some great melodies to be found here – but it is complex as challenging as well as engaging and entertaining.
Opener “Tides Of Time” is a case in point. Clear vocals, nice harmonies, memorable melodies plus complex structures, multiple layers of keyboards and guitars etc. Really, it’s the most “traditional” Spock’s Beard track here.
“Minion” is more of the same, but with an updated approach. The guitar riffs are heavier on this record, but the band haven’t strayed into progressive metal territory, there’s still plenty of light to go with the shade!
Instrumentally, as well as the usual guitars we find Alan Morse dabbling with autoharp, banjolele, electric sitar and mandolin, broadening the sonic palette further. For further variety, drummer Keegan provides the lead vocal on “Bennett Builds A Time Machine”.
There is plenty of excellent music on this album, but as things stand my favourite tracks are the epic ten minute “To Be Free Again”, “A Better Way To Fly”, “Tides Of Time” and “Disappear”. The only reservation I have is over the bonus track, a cover of the Black Sabbath classic “Iron Man”, here sung by bassist Dave Meros, which seems rather superfluous and out of place to be honest.
Of the main album proper, however, I have no such reservations. This is modern progressive rock at it’s best whilst still firmly rooted in the classics of the seventies. Granted, if progressive rock’s not your thing, then “The Oblivion Particle” isn’t likely to change your mind, but if it is then this album really is something quite special.
1. Tides Of Time / 2. Minion / 3. Hell’s Not Enough / 4. Bennett Built A Time Machine / 5. Get Out While You Can / 6. A Better Way To Fly / 7. The Center Line / 8. To Be Free Again / 9. Disappear / 10. Iron Man