Yes folks, it’s here. The new Spock’s Beard album, X. I am afraid to have to admit to you all that the nerd in me could not be prevented from acquiring it on vinyl. So this may for all I know differ slightly from the CD version.
Holding this double LP in my hands all of my seventies values returned and I handled it with reverence, courtesy and respect. I am unaware if the vinyl is 180g though it feels quite heavy and a joy to behold. Artwork and the quality of the packaging is nothing short of fantastic. For an optically challenged fifty something such as me it is just magnificent.
Judging by the cover (which I know that you aren’t supposed to) I would guess that a message about climate change is held within. The four seasons are depicted on all aspects of the cover and reflected in some of the lyrics. Placing the first of the meaty records onto the turntable and kicking back my potpourri began to dance as “Edge Of The In-between” started as the rest of the album meant to go on. With raging musical athleticism at it’s very best. I was under no illusion that I would be best in shorts and running shoes whilst listening to the whole of this album.
A fresh and breezy start soon leads us to “Kamikaze”. Ryo Okumoto at his wildest extreme. I think the clue is in the title. This is not something to play whist mum is making dinner. There are some fantastic organ and synth sounds to be heard and I honestly believe Nick De Vigilio gives Mr Portnoy a run for his money here. “The Emperors New Clothes” fools you into thinking it could be a slow one judging by the subtle acoustic guitar intro. Not so, this is The Beatles go prog. There is some fine guitar/keyboard interplay in this song with some fabulous piano and mellotron sounds in the middle but I can’t help thinking “Sergeant Pepper.
Turning to side B heralds the first of two pieces that occupy the whole of one side of the album. “From The Darkness” is fast and at times sinister with some atmospheric breaks. As with some of the other songs here, there are some great harmonies to be heard and the whole piece leaves you windswept. Placing the second record into position brings you to “The Quiet house” and guess what? It isn’t! This is Kiss with keyboards. Prog varnish totally worn away to reveal bare metal. Putting on the breaks only slowed the band down marginally for “The Man Behind The Curtain”. I was reminded of Marillion’s “Uninvited Guest” with much more American grandiose presentation played with aplomb.
Arriving at side D brings the listener to “Jaws Of Heaven” which I have to admit is without doubt my favourite. Quite a somber start to yet another otherwise power tune. Caustic and gritty with some great keyboard sounds emanating from the barrage of guitar. For the second time on the album real strings, French horn and trombone make a welcome augmentation amongst the electronica. This menacing opus concludes with great style and panache a wonderful album. Spock’s Beard skirt around the fringes of prog metal though pin their colour’s firmly to the mast reminding us all that by it’s very name and nature that prog must progress.
I often wonder if Spock’s Beard are a parody of prog, though listening to their tenth album I confirm that they are the real deal. It occurred to me that most of X has been played by musicians with ten fingers on each hand. As such, they have the enthusiasm of a college band yet the skill of finely honed and seasoned players. X is a must have item whether you buy it on CD or as I have on vinyl. The vinyl version is something very special and well worth seeking out. All that is needed to fully appreciate it is the time.