Released: 2002, Magna Carta
“For the 12 days of Christmas, Satan brought to me, twelve progressive bands and some headphones under my tree”!! What better time of year to stay indoors with the headphones on listening to Prog? ‘Tis the festive season after all…. and sometimes sitting by the fire, drinking hot chocolate and listening to death metal bands screaming about eating babies just doesn’t cut it. This month we bring reviews on Blue Oyster Cult, Enchant, Explorers Club, The Jelly Jam, Jughead, Jordan Rudess, Magellan, Planet X, RPWL, Spock’s Beard, Threshold and Ty Tabor. After hearing some of the dozen mellower bands in this months Progressive Music feature you may be motivated to stay inside for the next three months and practice! Happy Holidays!!
Several people I have talked to get annoyed with all the multiple Dream Theater related side-projects, of which there must be a dozen. Let me re-phrase that…not side-projects but others bands who have members of Dream Theater in them! In all honesty it doesn’t bother me. If an artist wants to work with other people, outside of the confines of his or her regular band, why not? That’s what prolific, progressive, metal musicians and composers do. They play and write and play and record and play some more! Some people I know will judge a project like this before they even hear it, blowing it off as, “just another Dream Theater side project”. That narrow-minded attitude does not serve anyone, the band or CD in question should be judged on the musical merits not by who is in the band. I feel Explorers Club could suffer from this double-edged sword. They want to let true fans know who is in the band and rightly so should be proud of their creation, but as mentioned suffer a backlash of criticism of over-saturation or redundancy in what is admittedly a small (but growing!) sub-genre of metal. Enough theorizing about the nature of prog and its’ perception by people, the bottom line is no matter how you look at it, Explorer’s Club are very, very good.
RAISING THE MAMMOTH is the second title in their catalogue and the band consists of a myriad of guest stars but is mainly driven by Trent Gardner who also produces this beast, pun fully intended. I know lists are boring but here who appears on this CD.
As I mentioned in my opening (rant?) paragraph Mr. Gardner has his own reasons for tackling such an experiment and although I don’t quote directly from CD’s too often his message in the liner notes explains quite concisely his motivation for this album.
“This album contains yet another ‘musical experiment’…I can’t think of anything more challenging, yet rewarding for a writer and producer. I anticipate more of these unlikely experiments. With the Raising the Mammoth player lineup, I have re-discovered how many endless combinations of ‘those mysterious 12 notes’ are still left, and more importantly, how many I still don’t understand…wow! Any cliché about need more time will do. Prog on.”
OK. What does this mean? Yes, it is a fully indulgent, self-serving CD and if you don’t like it, too bad! All you non-prog fans who think it is all wankery can stop reading now, I’m surprised you got this far!
RTM is magnificently produced, perhaps over-produced but such is the way of experimental studio projects. Will this band ever tour? I doubt it, except for maybe the occasional showcase gig or with other stand-in touring members. The packaging is surprisingly subdued for a project like this, and is quite odd, pictures of wooly mammoths, stamps, weird angles, the lyrics are printed in an odd way and so on. The presentation is almost secondary to the music as are the lyrics. They seem metaphorical or nonsensical times but quite introspective and intellectual. The songs do not have a lot to do with archeology, really!
The songs titles and times are confusing. There are two or three songs, (depending on how you look at it) Raising the Mammoth Part I and Part II (about 38 minutes long) which is broken into three main parts which are in turn are broken into 27 other parts! There are several sub-titles are well! How the hell is anyone supposed to following this? I can see it now, two die-hard prog dudes sitting there…”I like Sub-part 17 of Part II of the first song Part I.” To which his other buddy replies, “ Me too! I really enjoyed Sub-part 22 of Part III of the first song Part I waaay better than Sub-part 4 of Part I of the first song Part I. Sheesh. What’s the point? I suppose that is part of the appeal and it is kinda cool in it’s own weird way. The second song is an instrumental called “Gigantipithicus. (Parts 28-44) Most of the lyrics fall in RTM Part I, Sub-parts I-III. Experimental indeed! Basically it boils down to one string of music for about an hour.
Musically, I can’t even begin to describe this. I’m not a musician I don’t have knowledge of the formal terminology to describe the technical aspects of this CD, so I have to go on gut feeling, enjoyment and wing it! As I said this CD is excellent. The music flows very well all 44 parts bridging seamlessly which is odd as I thought it would have a very disjointed feel. Everything is super-smooth, layered keyboards, smooth guitar tones, everything seems softened, completely unlike the harshness of a band like Planet X. There is virtually nothing resembling a traditional song structure so if you are looking for verse-chorus verse look elsewhere. The musical is almost hypnotic, never frantic.
I would easily place this among some of the other world-class prog CD’s I have heard this year (Planet X, Spock’s Beard). This review is pretty long, short on description but I know what I like and I whole-hearted recommend all prog-metal fans check this out. You can learn more about EC at http://www.magnacarta.net.