It seems likely that there will always be a degree of antagonistic kerfuffle at the point where progressive rock and heavy metal collide.
Maybe it’s the common (but erroneous) perception that metal is too brutish and dumb to be properly assimilated into prog’s cerebral framework, or maybe it’s because many metal fans see prog as the preserve of ponderous self-indulgence. Either way, Threshold would probably be a lot bigger right now if everyone could just shake hands and stop being so snooty. And if they keep making albums as thunderously enjoyable as For The Journey, Karl Groom and his comrades’ 26-year story could easily be heading for an unexpected peak of acclaim and success.
This is the Englishmen’s second album since the return of vocalist Damian Wilson, and it’s not a record that spends much time trying to reinvent the prog-metal wheel. Threshold have always had a distinctive sound, albeit one that fans of Dream Theater and Symphony X can hardly fail to recognise and appreciate, and these songs seldom deviate from the grandiose template laid down on Wounded Land back in 1993. But with vast experience comes sophistication and a dash of bravery, which means that even the muscular bluster of opener Watchtower On The Moon bristles with freshness and renewed intent, as these dogged veterans continue doing what they do best, but better. And bigger.
The key track on the 10th Threshold album is The Box, a sprawling 12-minute adventure in crystalline heaviness and emotional oomph that exhibits a refined grasp of dynamics and wonderfully elegant melodic sensibilities that belie the notion that prog metal is all sturm, drang and endless widdling. Damian Wilson’s irresistibly soulful tones inject more than enough pathos into the whole thing, even without the spine-tingling ensemble performance that underpins his impassioned delivery. But even though numerous familiar tropes are thrumming and clanking within the depths of the Threshold engine, The Box still sounds like a song born of inspiration, curiosity and unfettered delight in the art of making heavy music that thinks, feels and dares to dream. It also taps sporadically into the spirit of Magnum-esque pomp rock, which is always a good thing.
Groom’s knack for writing metal songs that confound all the usual outsider misconceptions about the genre continues at full strength. The best of them – the brooding Unforgiven, the majestic closer Siren Sky – boast subtle and compelling embellishments to Threshold’s trademarks, ensuring this band are equipped for everything the future has in store, while sounding more vital and relevant than ever.