V

The thing with progressive music is, it’s a bit more complex and structured. Which means, depending on what prejudices you bring to the argument, that it is either (a) music for wanky poseurs, or (b) something to spend a bit of time with before passing judgement.

No surprises that, as a card-carrying wanky poseur, I advocate the second position… for lots of fascinating music: prog, jazz, jazz-rock, some electronic, much 20th century composed music and all the inter-category hybrids you can make out of the preceding.

Formed in the early 90s by brothers Neal and Alan Morse, Spock’s Beard combine brilliant instrumental playing with a whole lot of heavy rock grunt. At its best, the music evokes exciting glimpses of everyone from Yes to Queensrÿche. And V, the fifth Spock’s Beard album is certainly one of their best.

Released at the dawn of the new millennium, V is a fine example of the progressive torch being carried forward on high. It certainly isn’t perfect, but it’s bloody good.

Opening with an epic track of sixteen and a half minutes is brave, you might think, in a century where our attention span has shrunk to chopped up mouthfuls of TV programs jammed between advertisements. But here’s the thing, “At the end of the day” is that prog staple, a multi-part song. It doesn’t trumpet this in the way the closing suite does, but the parts are distinct. Opening with stately church-organ sounds that subtly introduce the main melodic theme, the crunch explodes just over a minute in and the song thunders into the sky: Great guitar riff, fabulous underpinning from keyboard master Ryo Okumoto, and Nick D’Virgilio’s powerhouse drumming—it’s a big kit and this dude knows his way around it. The vocals from Neal Morse, with some (brotherly?) Yes-like harmonies are terrific too. Real French horn adds a classy touch over Okumoto’s synths. At the five minutes mark everything shifts. A totally new rhythmic feels—Spanish, channelling early Return to Forever—trades off with a pure metal riff. Then, oh joy!, a Fender Rhodes solo from the fabulous Mr Okumoto. The vocals provide a through-line and some cement for the total piece, introducing a quieter section before…

I imagine you have the idea by now. What is interesting about V is that this classic prog opening salvo is followed by four songs of comparatively concise length: six, five, four and five minutes respectively.

“Revelation” is the first, full of Old Testament bombast and heavy riffing. Oh, but this is big music: great vocals and seismic guitar chords that suddenly drop into a crooning voice accompanied by electric piano… then that refrain thunders back. Have a listen if you have headphones.

The second, “Thoughts (Part II)” is perhaps my favourite Spock’s Beard moment. A deep and rich homage to Gentle Giant, it takes that band’s layered vocals and lightning changes and breathes 21st Century life into them. Simply thrilling. Fans of the Giant, enter here and be instantly seduced.

The ballad “All on a Sunday” is a pretty melody with added power. Ryo’s back in Wakeman-land, and that’s a good thing. “Goodbye to yesterday” has stayed in my mind as sweet but lightweight. Perhaps its job is to set the stage for the final act.

And what a monster that final chapter is. In fact, it’s more a book in its own right. “The Great Nothing” has six named parts, totalling almost half and hour. It’s full of invention, power, great playing and passionate vocalising, but doesn’t hold together as well as the tighter opening song. Unlike the best of, say, Yes long-form compositions, this one doesn’t pull you back into its world frequently enough to stay attuned. I read somewhere that the band called “The Great Nothing” their “Supper’s Ready”. As any Genesis fan will tell you, that is a big banquet hall to fill, and I cannot honestly say Spock’s Beard succeed. A few of the courses are in the wrong order, there’s a bit of a food fight and not all the dishes are fully cooked. Yet there are mouth-watering moments and the sheer scope of it all is undeniably impressive. What’s more, if it had come off perfectly I’d have had to award V a rare 5 (V?) stars. As it is, we have a terrific four-star album from the neo-prog, symphonic metal, harmony rich quintet whose vaulting ambition is to be applauded.

Fan of the Beard? Liked what you heard in the clip? Do tell!

29 comments

  1. Good timing reviewing this one as it’s Battlestar Galactica day today!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The force is strong in this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually not easy to find any classy what I would call traditional (symp) prog from the US, Spock’s Beard’s “V” surely amongst the best. A very good album and only recommend this bless of well-crafted music following every rule of 70’s prog.

    Adding just a tiny less sweet grape to the cluster could be that an album like this does not add much new to music, but hey 99,9% of all good music doesn’t and no rule say it should.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I saw the first tour by these guys -it was fantastic -so much like Gentle Giant -so many keys and frets – later we lost main man Neil to Jesus and it was and continues to be a bummer imo. Anyway was great at the start

    Liked by 1 person

  4. To the other comment, best US Prog besides Kansas was absolutely Happy The Man. Was there any Prog from down under, not counting early Enz ( if you interpret them as that at the start)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Would have enjoyed them at the beginning – nice gig memory for you Douglas! Yes, shame when a worthwhile artist succumbs to superstition.

      I’d love to get the first two Happy the Man albums, but you just never see them here. I have the reformation CD and an odds and sods gap filler – enough to see the promise, but not enough to actually say I’m a fan.

      Aus has not really been a prog hot-spot, though there were definitely artists with progressive leanings over the years. One is a personal fave – the first Madder Lake album – which I must write about.

      Like

  5. I had to laugh at the back cover; somehow one band member found a stool to sit on…in the desert?! Lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine t’s very handy carrying a small stool through the desert. Like when, for instance, you suddenly come across a camel that needs milking.

      Like

  6. You do wanky poseur very well. An inspiration in the blogosphere.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Er, thanks. Is there an award image I can post for that?

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know much about prog and I’ve never heard of these dudes, but they’re called Spock’s Beard and that’s awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Live long and prosper, James (T Kirk).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    Balsy post, to “go there” in this manner. Or wankery poseur maybe better description (said out of deep respect and fondness, of course) 😳

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I figure it’s what many people think about prog aficionados, so best get it out there.
      Of course I’m totally crestfallen that the label has received such endorsement.
      Inconsistent is my middle name.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I tend to spend more time with Transatlantic, but Morse is a very good vocalist.

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    1. He is, isn’t he? I think I prefer the more lush, symphonic sheen of Transatlantic too. But this one (and Day For Night) are very enjoyable albums.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Prog rock really needs a strong vocalist I think.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Never heard a note. But I must!

    Also, “a card-carrying wanky poseur” you are not, good sir.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think folk who like early (Jon Lord influenced) Purple and the more muscular parts of Yes might find this album grows on them quite pleasantly, A.

      Like

  11. I enjoyed the post Bruce. Although you have previously winkled out of me that I do have hidden prog tendencies, I’m not so on board with this. I like the well-mannered bits better than their rockier bits, which is unusual for me.

    A chum at work leant me one fo their CDs (not this one), along with Gentle Giant’s one with the see-through window on (sorry, can’t remember the title) and I pretended to like both of them very much, out of politeness.

    I may be more regressive than progressive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That would be In a Glass House I think. Unless there was an octopus behind the glass, in which case it was, um, Octopus. I like GG very much and will probably write on one of those two one day. I’ll warn you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I liked the bits of Octopus I’ve heard and I love the LP cover. 🐙 so I’ll read without prejudice.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I’d say the artist name is also bloody good – pleased to read their music is too!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I tried, but it looks like all the Neal Morse-era Spock’s Beard is actively held back from Spotify (in the U.S. at least). The newer stuff is there though, so I wonder if it isn’t Neal putting the kibosh. I saw The Neal Morse Band in 2015 — great show! — and so, being herein reminded, also looked for the album they were touring then — The Grand Experiment — but no solo Neal Morse albums were to be found there either.

    So, my point is your post made me look for the music!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds kind of frustrating, Vic. But thanks – pleased something prompted the (fruitless) exploration! I”d check Spotty here, but I don’t have my log-in details accessible and I’ve rather gone off using Facebook to log into things. Blanks all round, then. But I can easily imagine you enjoying V. Maybe a secondhand pick up?

      Like

  14. Just because it’s you I will give these guys a fair listen. Like 1537 said, I kind of like the toned down moments on the cut you posted.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. This is my favorite of the Spock’s Beard’s albums. I think Neal Morse is incredibly talented. Does this make my top 100 progressive rock album list? Not so sure, but I admire the skill and musicianship.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A Top 100 progressive albums. Now there’s an idea to while away winter evenings…

      Like

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