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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Hourglass

Oblivious to the Obvious

Review by Tim Jones

Pure progressive rock and metal, Oblivious to the Obvious is a diverse, layered, meaty, album.  The style is reminiscent of Dream Theater, but Hourglass is a talented, quality band in its own right.

Hourglass fans have waited almost five years for this release, and Hourglass rewarded them with two full CDs worth of music--almost 140 minutes.  This could have easily been two full albums.   Brick Williams, the only member of the band to play on all four Hourglass albums, plays guitar.  John Dunston plays drums.  Jerry Stenquist returns to the band, after a brief hiatus, to play keyboards.  Eric Blood plays base.  Continuing the trend of featuring a new vocalist on each album, Oblivious to the Obvious features vocalist Michael Turner.  All band members are high-quality talent, each an expert musician.

Oblivious to the Obvious is a bipolar child, at times heavy and oppressive, at times light and refreshing.  The shortest song is about seven minutes, the longest comes in at over thirty.  This is highly recommended.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
On the Brink
Oblivious to the Obvious begins heavy and oppressive; this first song showcases the band's metal talent.  The first three minutes of this twelve-minute composition are purely instrumental, dominated mostly by guitars, drums, and bass.  Keyboards and chanting voices join, and then, a full four minutes in, Michael Turner appears on vocals.  His voice handles the metal demands of this track with skill.  Eight minutes in, the instrumental returns, and the musicians demonstrate their skill.  Brick Williams' guitar solos are particularly impressive here.  The vocalist then returns, speaking, screaming, and singing, to finish the song.
Homeward Bound
The second track starts out on a much lighter note, with Jerry Stenquist's keyboards.  The vocals make it clear that this is a progressive rock song.  This is not metal; this is more in the style of IQ than Dream Theater.  The ten-minute song features some great song-writing, and some superb guitars and keyboards.  It's one of my favorite tracks.
Pawn II
The sequel to "Pawn," from their second album, The Journey Into, Pawn II is, at over thirteen minutes, significantly longer.  It is all Spanish guitars for two minutes, and then other instruments come in to make this a metal song.  Fast-moving electric guitars lead this track along.  Vocals come in, and the song, earlier an independent piece, now becomes an obvious sequel to "Pawn," new vocalist notwithstanding.  A heavy instrumental section enters at the eight minute mark, and it sounds like a Liquid Tension Experiment jamming session. 
Faces
This twelve-minute song is the highlight of the album, particularly the first five or six minutes.  It starts with keyboards, sounding every bit as beautiful as Beethoven, and then we get smooth, melodic vocals.  The tone changes six minutes in, slow Spanish guitars join the keyboards, and eventually drums, rolling guitars, and vocals demand a hypnotic attention.
38th Floor
Spanish guitars again start this, joined by drums, fast-moving electric guitars, and keyboards.  This is standard Hourglass, with some Spanish guitars thrown in for fun.  It's quite metal, but not overbearingly heavy.  Eleven minutes in the tone changes to one similar to Arena's "The Visitor."  At sixteen minutes, the tone changes yet again, back to standard Hourglass metal, complete with fast-paced electric guitar.  The song fades slowly on keyboards and guitar.
Disc 2
Facade
The second disc begins slowly, like something off of Marillion's Afraid of Sunlight or Seasons End.  This being Hourglass, however, the vocals take a while longer to come in.  When they do, they serve merely as another instrument, with no actual words attached.  Layers of electric guitar come in.  Actual lyrics take a full six minutes to enter, and then the song's essence, standard Hourglass but with a catchy chorus, appears.  The last half of this fifteen-minute track turns into more rock and metal; one section features a very cool guitar undercurrent.  
Skeletons
As the name suggests, this track is, at least for the most part, heavy and dark.  Some of the lighter moments remind me of Ice Age (another excellent under-rated progressive rock/metal band).  The lighter moments are, however, few and far between.  Turner's angry vocals take turns with Williams' angry guitars.  At just under seven minutes, this is the shortest track on the album. 
Estranged
Turner's vocals are the main feature in this melodic prog rock broken-heart ballad.  It appears as if the band's search for the perfect vocalist is over--Turner demonstrates the soft side of his voice here, and the results are spectacular.  An interesting vocal interplay in the second half of this song adds an additional dimension.  This is a short track, at just over seven minutes.  It's one of my favorites.
Delirium
Sounds like King Crimson here, with strange distortions and experiments in sound.  A song emerges from the noise, electric machines and drums.  Most of the songs on this album have large instrumental sections, but this is the only one that's entirely an instrumental.  Imagine Robert Fripp, occasionally playing with metal sounds, and you've got a good idea of what this song sounds like.  It's ten minutes of craziness.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 1--No Chance
The longest song of the album, at over thirty minutes, is broken into five parts.  The first, "No Chance," rides on a thick carpet of keyboards and guitars.  The vocals are crisp and the lyrics are some of Brick Williams best.  
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 2--Realization
Part 1 merges into part 2 via lush keyboards.  Turner's vocals are again crisp, supported by guitars and keyboards, and background vocals.  Like Part 1, Part 2 is dark and soft.  Dunston's drums, which have seemed muted throughout the album, get their chance to shine here.  
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 3--Remember Me
Proggy goodness, and then vocals with a steady bass and the rest of the works.  Part 3, unlike the previous parts, could potentially be considered metal.  Elements of the sound Hourglass perfected in their previous albums are evident, but there's some great guitar play and prog here for diversity.  This is good stuff here.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 4--In My Hands
Classic metal electric guitar sound, repeating the same theme in the background as the foreground changes.  Part 4 is clearly in progressive metal territory.   Great, clear metal vocals, and the last words on the album are spoken.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 5--Redemption
Instrumental progressive rock and metal close the song and the album.  This is more structured than a jamming session.  Each instrument gets time to play, including the bass and drums.  An excellent close to an excellent album. 
 
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