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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Hourglass

Subconscious

Review by Josh Turner

Where has Hourglass been hiding all this time? Their latest album is awesome. Each track has an abundance of melodies and transitions. A lot of creative thought can be found here. The quality is fairly consistent, and there are virtually no weak spots. To be perfectly honest, Subconscious is superb from start to finish. This album has a lot of range, but it's probably closest to Dream Theater's discography. While progression from one style to the next can be heard from Falling into Infinity to Train of Thought, Subconscious covers all this ground in just one album. Since Subconscious is neither too light nor too heavy, it is probably closest to Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. There are so many references to Dream Theater that it would take a thesis to point them all out. Bottom line, if you like Dream Theater, you'll certainly like Hourglass. Then again, this group is far from a simple clone. Be prepared for much, much more.

Hourglass is a modern day A-Team. Clark Woolstenhulme (bassist) and Brick Williams (guitarist) are so technically proficient, it seems like John Myung and John Petrucci are part of the crew. While Clark incorporates many juicy bass bits, Brick appears to have mastered many tips, tricks, and techniques throughout his tour of duty. They each astound the audience with a spectacular showing of special effects. As for the others, John Dunston (drummer), Eric Robertson (keyboardist), and Cody Walker (vocalist) put a unique spin on the progressive metal angle. While John Dunston has Mike Portnoy's chops, he comes off sounding more like Robert Risberget Johansen from Gazpacho. He can be heavy-handed, but most of the time he is cool and controlled like a major in a drum corps. Eric, however, holds the keys and he uses them to unlock decadent doors. While others are slicing, dicing, and thrashing, he alone makes the music melodic and unquestionably progressive with his covert operations. Last, but certainly not least, Cody has a voice that is both youthful and fresh. His voice is much less operatic than James LaBrie, but he has the animation and character to keep up with this agile bunch. Each musician has talent in their own way as individuals. Together they become an overwhelming force capable of attacks from multiple fronts.

Subconscious is laced with many clever melodies and riffs. At 79 minutes, very little room is wasted. It is hard to believe they've crammed all these ideas into one album. The music is accessible and the hooks will reel you in. Yet, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who could process them all on the first rotation. Hourglass squishes many catchy melodies into a blender. With the appliance set to liquefy, you are left with a concoction that's quite easy to digest. It explodes with flavor, but never tastes pretentious or overblown. These traits are the precise recipe for good songwriting. There are many jaw-dropping, head-turning moments littered over the floorspace of every room. I am thoroughly impressed with the remarkable foundation they have built. They add sophisticated furnishings and luscious landscapes to an architecture that's already quite alluring. Hourglass has designed a great trademark graphic of a black widow spider for use on their cover art. Instead of the usual tiny red dot on its underbelly, this arachnid dons a red H. I figured these guys were graphic artists who dabbled with music on the side. It was a surprise to discover their talents and learn my hypothesis was backwards. Regardless, the artwork is still a real attention-grabber. It is great to see musicians put a lot of time and thought into every aspect of their album. This music is too good to scrutinize, but I'll raise one complaint. The band makes one mistake, and it pertains to the promotion of this album. Why haven't more people heard of this band and this tremendous album? Getting Subconscious into my grubby hands was a good first step, but this material warrants critical acclaim that goes both far and wide. Once this material is circulated, I'd be willing to bet it is met with rave reviews. Nonetheless, as far as this reviewer is concerned, this is the surprise hit of the season.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Hammer's Strike
Hourglass doesn't postpone the listener's pleasure for a single second. Right off the bat, we are hit with incredible material. The build-up is gradual, which makes it suitable for the starting slot. Initially, the music is reserved before it roars forward. At this point, it is hard to gauge whether this will be rock or metal. Eventually, you come to learn that the band covers a broad scope. The strengths of this song are the many different melodies and the transitions that take you from one to the next. The keyboardist breaks out like Jordan Rudess during the bridges. The guitars, however, are like fine-tuned suspension absorbing every groove in the pavement. The beefy bass holds the road and take the corners with ease. Finally, we have a band with superior technical know-how and a singer worthy of his place alongside these other enlisted experts.
Altered State
Just about every song on this album is an epic. This is one of two exceptions. The epics are Hourglass' forte, but this still works as an elegant segue. This normal length song is a little funky like Pain of Salvation, and it should appeal to fans of Vanden Plas as well. The bass lines remind me of Jonas Reingold's rhythmic beats in Karmakanic's Entering the Spectra. It's short and the melody is repeated for most of its duration, but it's still very catchy. The middle section and finale are sure to dazzle.
Mists of Darkness
The Mist
The opening draws in like wet fog through the highlands. It is something you'd find in a fantasy adventure movie like The Dark Crystal or Never Ending Story. This feels like something Jim Henson or Frank Oz might have conjured up. Picture Atreyu flying through the sky on that flying dog named Falkor.
Wasted Away
This song highlights Cody's singing, and the band's enchanting lyrics. While not quite neo-progressive, the keyboards are extraordinarily eccentric. They lay down lush layers and classical lines. The music here reminds me mostly of Magellen or Explorer's Club.
Silent Suffering
The transition from the last song into this one is seamless. It takes us to a calm place to witness a piano recital. Cody cleverly reprises the chorus and takes us to an ending that's electric.
Thread The Needle
This is the other stand-alone track. It is a little heavier and more menacing than the others. It works well to offset the light end of the scale and brings buoyancy to the album.
Exit Wounds
If I had to pick my favorite part of the album, it would probably be the last epic. This is the most like the title track from Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence. Every piece is different from the next, yet it somehow works together as a whole.
Farewell
This starts with an inspirational opening not too unlike Dream Theater's Solitary Shell.
The Soldier
This song incorporates marching beats, guitar solos, and even lines from the piano. This is one clever ditty which is a cross between Iced Earth's Glorious Burdon and Gazpacho's When Earth Let's Go. It is rock one minute, metal the next. Cody keeps pace with the pack whether they climb, coast, sink, or submerge.
The Unbeliever
The music gets darker as we find ourselves deep inside a murky cavern. Fearful of a cave-in, we fight our way through the shadows and accidentally slam into rigid rock formations. We see a crack of light at the end of a tunnel. We work our way towards this fissure and emerge unharmed. There is dirt and perspiration caked on our brow. It's a friendly reminder of the dangers found lurking below.
Daddy's Little Girl
The change in pace, the music, and the lyrics remind me of Dream Theater's Goodnight Kiss. It picks up and takes us into a myriad of symphonic melodies. Eric's keyboards propel the music through the cosmos while Brick's acoustic guitars reach astronomical levels.
The Believer
This one continues in the vein of spacey and subdued. This is quite opposite from the metal madness encountered elsewhere on this album. Near the end we stumble across some nifty noises complements of Eric's synthesizer.
Widowed
We return to the magnetically charged metal. This one has fury coupled with angst and confusion. It is Rush, Collective Soul, and Derek Sherinian at the onset. Towards the end, the emotional content is a clear reminder of the passion found in Ophan Project.
The Soldier Alive
This is the fantastic finish to an already excellent epic. It is also the conclusion to what has been a remarkable album. The Farewell track is reprised with the return of several familiar guitar licks. These riffs are followed by a series of marvelous melodies before it wraps up and ultimately winds down. It is impressive how they can complete this album on such a high note after dishing out their best recipes. From head to toe, this album is one fine specimen. Don't take my word for it. Get this astounding disc right away. Like me, you'll be happy you gave this unknown quantity a chance. When they do get recognized, remember where you heard it first.
 
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