THEO, The Game of Ouroboros (Big-O Records, 2015)
Tracks: 1. The Game of Ouroboros, 2. The Blood That Floats My Throne, 3. Creatures of Our Comfort, 4. These are the Simple Days, 5. Idle Worship, 6. Exile
I love discovering new bands that are absolutely amazing! I just found out about THEO a few days ago, and the more I am learning about the music and the band the more I like it. THEO’s The Game of Ouroboros offers so much to the listener. It is a keyboard driven album in a very traditionally “prog” sense, yet it does not allow itself to be tied to that [rather loose] definition. THEO find themselves sailing anywhere from prog metal (in an almost Haken fashion, just not quite as chaotic) to straight-up classic prog, to jazz, to an almost funk sound. Their exploration of different sounds, especially through the keyboards, is brilliant. Apart from The Tangent, it seems that there are very few third wave prog bands that center around the keyboards as much as THEO do, yet it is never overdone. Think ELP or Yes keyboards – always just the right amount.
So who are THEO?
Jim Alfredson: keyboards, lead vocals
Gary Davenport: bass
Kevin DePree: drums, backing vocals
Jack Reichbart: guitars
Specials guests: Greg Nagy and Zach Zunis on guitars for the title song
The album itself is actually a bit of a dystopian concept album, but you wouldn’t know that from a passive listen. The music is not depressing in a Floydian Animals or The Wall sense, but rather it is quite upbeat. Thematically, however, the album gets off to a rather dark start. “The Game of Ouroboros” starts with a computerized phone answering machine reading Theo’s personal RFID chip, which contains all of his personal information. To be honest, the idea of chipping humans scares the crap out of me. Once the music begins, Jim Alfredson’s distinct vocals take over and shortly deliver this cheery line: “Bow to the corporations, concede your very life.” There’s a happy thought. Here’s another one, from the second song, “The Blood that Floats my Throne”: “a passive citizen is a happy citizen.” Yikes. THEO are very upfront with their concept, and they are not afraid to hide it.
(Random fun fact. The ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent eating its own tail. Interesting to have this circular idea so prominent in a progressive rock album, considering the word progress is in the name of the genre.)
So, while there are clear dystopian elements to be found here, the music itself does not follow the traditional depressing dystopian themes so often heard in “dystopian” albums. The first song has an almost jazzy element to it, in parts, because it jumps around to different instrument solos, and the vocal section almost acts as an instrumental solo, as opposed to being layered over the music. I can’t honestly remember hearing any other band attempt to use vocalization in that manner, but I think it works really well, especially with Jim’s voice, which is unlike most traditional “prog” singers. The jazz sounds will give way to prog metal in other places, and even to a funky type of prog in the fifth song, “Idle Worship.”
My favorite aspect of this album is definitely the keyboards, although all the instrumentation is quite good. There is heavy bass, great guitar riffs, and great drums. But those keyboards. Man are they good. At some points it sounds like an actual pipe organ, and then I found out that it actually is a real pipe organ, the one at Hope College’s chapel in Holland, Michigan, to be precise. I’m not a big fan of organ music in church, mainly because I have grown up in churches that wouldn’t dream of purchasing an organ, and the few times I have heard organs in church, the music has been atrocious. Prog keyboardists should be playing and writing those hymns, and I’d be willing to bet that more pews would be full on Sundays. This particular organ sounds amazing. At other places, the keyboards take on a Dennis DeYoung Styx sound, and in even other places, we have traditional piano. It truly is wonderful to a keyboard lover like me.
I highly recommend THEO’s The Game of Ouroboros. It is a wonderful combination of many different styles of music, and it keeps the listener entertained throughout. The lyrics are strong, and the instrumentation is even stronger. To any fans of Keith Emerson or Rick Wakemen, this album is a must listen. To everyone else, listen to it as well. You won’t be disappointed.