The opening bombastic notes of Spock’s Beard’s latest album, X, almost seem to say, “Hey, we’re back!” After several listens, I believe them.
First, a brief history. Spock’s Beard released their first album, The Light, in 1995 to a lot of praise in the small progressive rock scene. They followed with five more albums, each album growing in popularity and musicianship. Then, in 2002, founding member and main songwriter, Neal Morse, left suddenly to pursue Christian music. Actually, he makes Christian progressive music which is really good, but this review is about Spock’s Beard.
After some tough decisions the band decided to continue as a four piece band now consisting of Alan Morse (guitar), Nick D’Virgilio (drums and vocals), Dave Meros (bass) and Ryo Okumoto (keyboards). They have released four albums as the new Spock’s Beard with their latest, and possibly best, being X.
As I mentioned at the opening, the opening track, The Edge of In Between, starts of with a somewhat typical progressive rock intro with layered keyboards along with guitar and drums to accentuate the beat. Soon, the song settles into a simple keyboard and drum beat, which isn’t very exciting, but it serves the song well. It wouldn’t call it the strongest track on the album, but it is a nice springboard into whole work.
A progressive rock album wouldn’t be complete without an instrumental track and Kamikaze fills the bill here. It’s a keyboard heavy track, it was written by Ryo after all, but it moves along and a brisk pace and allows each band member to show off a bit. But, unlike many prog bands, it’s not overdone. You don’t feel like your being beat over the head with the instruments. The whole album is like that, really. While there are many instrumental sections on several songs, they never feel out of place or forced. There are plenty of bands out there that seem to throw long instrumental sections in their songs just because they are a progressive rock band. I didn’t find that to be the case on X.
While X is definitely a progressive rock album, I think it sits closer to the mainstream side of the musical spectrum. While there are songs that reach 17 minutes, they don’t feel that long. From the Darkness is the longest track, but it moves along briskly with several lead breaks from Alan Morse, but it feels like a nearly basic rock track with a quiet section in the middle to mix things up. I know long songs scare non-prog fans off, but I think this song could turn those people to the dark side, so to speak.
Each song seems to be driven by the band member that wrote the music, which makes for a nice mix within the album itself. Quiet House starts with a driving bass with the other band members joining in, but even in the quieter parts, Dave Meros’ bass is still prominent. The Man Behind the Curtain has Alan Morse at the forefront with the heaviest guitars I’ve ever heard in a Spock’s Beard song.
There is one track with a familiar feel to it. With the horns and layered a capella vocals in the middle of The Emperor’s Clothes, it feels like the song was plucked from a classic Spock’s Beard album like V. It turns out the Neal Morse wrote the song with his brother Alan. While it has some of the old Beard feel, it still fits in with this album. A nice solid track.
Jaws of Heaven finishes of the album with a slow building, somewhat haunting song. The only problem is that it finishes an a weak note. I think it should have been the second to last song and maybe finish off with Quiet House. But I know most prog bands like to end and album with a long song.
Overall, I think this is a great album. The guys in Spock Beard self-financed this album and I think it shows. I’m not saying they didn’t try on their last albums, but you can feel the intensity on X. They put all they had into this album and it works. If you are a progressive rock fan, even if you are not, I recommend picking Spock’s Beard X.