Today, InsideOut Music releases Spock’s Beard’s 12th studio album, The Oblivion Particle. This marks the second official release with the lineup Alan Morse (guitars), Ryo Okumoto (keyboards), Dave Meros (bass), Ted Leonard (lead vocals and guitars), and Jimmy Keegan (drums and lead vocals on “Benett Builds a Time Machine”)
Overall, it’s a very strong album, but it didn’t click with me right away, unlike Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep. The Oblivion Particle is definitely a grower, just because there are a lot of new sounds, that you may not expect from Spock’s Beard, being thrown at you from all directions. The arrangements are very strong, although the album doesn’t feel as much of a cohesive unit as BNaDS, perhaps because of the multiple writers involved. Stan Aumus wrote “Tides of Time”, Morse and Okumoto wrote “The Center Line”, Leonard wrote “Minion” and “Hell’s Not Enough”, and seasoned Spock’s writer John Boegehold wrote the rest of the tracks.
“Tides of Time” is a very strong track, a perfect opening, telling you that you have made no mistake- You are listening to prog and with all great prog, this one takes you on a journey. The song starts a little too abruptly, though. It’s like being a passenger in your friend’s really fast car, and he goes from 0 to 60 before you even got a chance to fasten your seat belt. The beginning is great, I just wished it waited to start 2-3 seconds after the play button was hit. I do have the album in digital format, but perhaps the CD itself is programmed with a little more time before take off.
The first couple of minutes are undoubtedly Spock’s Beard. Then we get some great power synths thrown into the mix which make the piece sound very “Turn It On Again” by Genesis or perhaps a lost B-side of Abacab. I can totally picture Phil Collins singing the lines of the 2nd verse of “Tides of Time”- “You’d thought you’d know by now, but know it you do not. It’s a hard cold cross to bear, but pain is all you got”. From there we get a beautiful ballad section, but it doesn’t last as long as it could. Then we get some Spock’sy counterpoint and harmonic acoustic guitars which turn into an awesome metal riff. There are some really great dirty guitar shredding and blazing rock organs afterwards, but Okumoto’s and Morse’s solos seem to get cut off by the vocals too soon. It’s a very concise prog song just under 8 minutes, so I understand what they may have been going for, but I could have easily listened to 3 more minutes of it.
“Minion” has a Kanasas-like vocal rock anthem intro, but then immediately goes into a whole new territory. The section changes, groove changes, riffs and vocal melodies are so fantastic, it’s hard to pay attention to Leonard’s powerful lyrics at first. “Hell’s Not Enough” is a fantastic track that keeps on stepping it up notch after notch. At first we get a synth-flute which is something fresh to the SB arsenal and then Meros adds an interesting bass line. The end is very powerful and gospelly- which works really well in this song about cult-like religions. I can’t put my finger on it, but the background “Ah”s at the end remind me of something I heard already in early Neal Morse era Spock’s Beard, or probably more likely from Morse’s Christian Prog-rock endeavors.
At first it seems as if “Bennett Built a Time Machine” doesn’t stylistically belong with the rest of the album. Leonard takes a break here and passes the gavel over to Keegan for lead vocals. The vocal harmony combined with the leads sounds a little like Weird Al overdubbed on himself, which is unfortunate because it disguises the beautiful voice Jimmy really has, but I do like the background Beach Boys-like “Oooh”s toward the end. Some of us who have seen Spock’s Beard live recently, may have seen Jimmy come out from the drums and sing “Carrie” from Snow. Of course “Bennett” doesn’t have as sweet of a style or melody, but I still felt as if he was robbed of his moment due to overproduction, mainly on the vocals. It does have a very Spock’s Beardy transition into the 2nd half, which starts with a very unexpected but exciting chord progression, which leads to a really cool bass solo- a great homage to the late Chris Squire. Okumoto then brings in some really nice synths.
When “Get Out While You Can” starts to play, all bets are off. This is not your father’s Spock’s Beard. It’s not very proggy and the first minute plays like something you’d expect from a Depeche Mode song. Leonard’s vocals go from silky smooth to gritty, really following the entire spectrum of the energy of the track.
If you could mind-meld with Spock’s Beard’s collective brain, “A Better Way to Fly” is the song you would hear. There is some quite impressive drumming by Keegan, but everyone really does give it their all in this song. It will be quite impressive to see this one done live.
Okumoto performs some great piano solos on the album including on the intro of “The Center Line” after which we get Meros to add a little Spock’s Bach counterpoint. There are a lot of notes in this song; I would also be impressed to see SB do this live. My favorite piano solo of the album is on “To Be Free Again”. Love the jazziness! Not sure why, but when listening to this song I get the impression it may be about Frodo taking an adventure and at the end he throws the Ring into the fires of Mordor.
The Oblivion Particle forms a black hole in the Large Hadron Collider and destroys all existence in final track “Disappear”. Just kidding, that’s not what it’s about, as far as I know, but that could have been awesome! “Disappear” is an appropriate finale to the album. Not only does it have the Kansas influences (I hear bits of Magnus Opus in the middle), which Spock’s Beard has had since their beginning, but it also has Kansas’s David Ragsdale tearing it up on violin. I like that it doesn’t have a big epic ending, but rather just “disappears.” But, of course, we all are hoping that Spock’s Beard will not disappear and release their 13th album in the next 2-3 years.
The album was produced by Rich Mouser, Alan Morse and John Boegehold and was engineered, mixed and mastered by Rich Mouser at The Mouse House. As with all Mouser mixed productions, you’ll definitely want to listen to The Oblivion Particle with great speakers or on headphones. There is so much going on here, so you’ll also want to listen to it multiple times. Every time I listen to it, I hear new things that I like. I can’t decide on one favorite track, but my three favorite are “Tides of Time”, “Hell’s Not Enough”, and “A Better Way To Fly”. The album is being released by InsideOut Music. The special edition CD also contains the bonus track “Iron Man”.
When I first listened to The Oblivion Particle, I was outside my place (A/C wasn’t working and it was too hot to listen to inside). When Ted sang, in “Tides of Time”, “I hope I can find my way home”, I couldn’t help but to look up at the stars. Spock’s Beard has always had that special magic which would somehow make me do such a thing in the first place. It was a beautiful moment. ★★★★