Released By: InsideOut Music (distribution only; album funded via Indiegogo)
Release Date: March 25th, 2013 (already available in digital format @ Bandcamp)
Genre: Progressive rock
Alan Morse – Guitars & vocals
Dave Meros – Bass, bass pedals, keyboards and vocals
Ryo Okumoto – Keyboards and vocals
Ted Leonard – Lead vocals and guitar
Jimmy Keegan – Drums and vocals
1. Hiding Out
2. I Know Your Secret
3. A Treasure Abandoned
6. Something Very Strange
7. Waiting for Me
Special Edition only:
8. The Man You’re Afraid You Are
9. Down A Burning Road
10. Wish I Were Here
11. Something Very Strange – Sanctified Remix
Limited edition only:
12. Postcards From Perdition
What does it mean when a band is named after a fictional character that mostly everyone on this planet knows about and that has quite a unique, instantly recognizable look? Does it make you a rabid fan of the said character, that you don’t take yourself seriously or that you’re just a geek? What about if the franchise this character is from has a yearly convention where a bunch of people – from sweaty males to zit-ridden teens while passing by the occasional good-looking female – reunite to geek up and celebrate their beloved franchise? No, no… I don’t mean Dungeons and Dragons (thankfully!). Ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about Star Trek and its following, dubbed “Trekkies”. The band in question here is Spock’s Beard.
Now, I’ll admit it: the first time I saw that name, my first thoughts were in the lines of “wow, that’s pretty sad. Maybe I should name my band Picard’s Bald Head or something” and I tossed them aside derisively, thinking they were just a bunch of geeks playing Star Trek inspired music. Then, sometime later, a prog head friend of mine plays me “The Good Don’t Last” from their album The Kindness of Strangers and I was mortified to learn that the band I dismissed a while back was in fact quite interesting in their progressive pop sound. I started to dig into their discography and I found some very interesting things all around. From dorky progressive art rock (The Light, Beware of Darkness) to great pop-inclined progressive rock (Day For Night, The Kindness of Strangers) to a rather complex, slightly preachy but oh-so-magnificent concept album (Snow). Despite the band’s still ridiculous sounding moniker, it has become undeniable to me that their music is far from ridiculous.
I have to say most of that is thanks to some amazing musicians being involved with the band, namely Ryo Okumoto’s impressive skills with keyboards, Alan Morse’s guitar wizardry, Dave Meros’s bass work, Nick D’Virgilio’s precise drumming and (the sorely missed) Neal Morse’s voice and lyrics. The band has seen some amazing days but they’ve also seen some rather dark ones. The masterpiece album that is Snow also marked the departure of Neal Morse, the voice of the band since its beginnings and one of its main masterminds. What followed was a rather tumultuous time of ups and downs. The first post-Neal album, Feel Euphoria made me feel all the opposite of its title; it was uneven and it felt like the band didn’t really know which direction they wanted to take anymore. Thankfully, Octane was a rather enjoyable album to me, with Nick taking over vocal duties. Despite being a great drummer, he definitely isn’t the best of singers to me and I always found his voice lacking but he got the job done and the music was pretty good, if a little different. I thought they were back on track but then the self-titled album left a bad taste in my mouth with only one song being even palatable on it and 2010’s album simply titled X (while it was a bit better) still didn’t do anything much for me.
It was anyone’s guess where the band would go next. I kind of lost track of them since then from being pretty much disinterested in their music anymore and then “Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep” is landing in my lap. The album was crowd-funded through Indiegogo, showing much to my surprise that the band still have quite a following. That’s definitely a cool way to fund an album for established bands in a less mainstream genre, though. Kudos for that.
To my surprise, Nick D’Virgilio has now left the band (perhaps to give us a new solo album?). His first solo album (2001’s Karma) was pretty decent, actually. He’s been replaced by Jimmy Keegan whose name remains unfamiliar to me and who actually does a very good job on this new album. But more importantly, who is now handling vocals? That was my biggest surprise (in a very good way). It turns out none other than Ted Leonard has joined in. His name might be familiar to some progressive rock fans, mostly from the band Enchant with which he recorded some great albums (the terrific Blink of an Eye, namely) and maybe also from progressive metal project Thought Chamber and their (very good) 2007 album Angular Perceptions. That was a very good move on their part, because vocally this is easily the best Spock’s Beard album since Snow. Ted’s multi-faceted voice really gives a lot of depth to the songs: you can hear him pull great melodic lines on “Hiding Out”, then he stands up and soars on “A Treasure Abandoned” and great layered vocals on “Afterthoughts”.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the album. “Hiding Out” opens it big with a progressive assault complete with solos and all, with Ted already imposing his (very welcome) presence and showcasing his melodic delivery. “I Know Your Secret” is good but unremarkable to me. “A Treasure Abandoned” is a highlight, if anything thanks to Ted going up in his vocal register and soaring a few lines. It definitely harkens to Spock’s Beard’s poppier inclines, much to the joy or some (or detriment of others). Great stuff for my ears. “Submerged” is a ballad-ish song which some will hate but I personally quite enjoy it. “Afterthoughts” is a bit unusual in its delivery, with processed vocals and a few layered vocal parts which sound pretty odd the first time but ends up pretty cool to me. “Something Very Strange” is another highlight, with a slightly space-y vibe and with Ted once again shining and bringing it up a notch with his melodic soaring. This is Spock’s Beard by the numbers. The final part of the regular version of the album is made up of the 12-minute epic “Waiting for Me”. It ends it incredibly well with a solid progressive rock song, going through a myriad of moods and chock full of great soloing from everyone. It should also be noted that Neal Morse appears as a guest and plays guitar on this one, as well as helped writing some of the album (his presence and this album being their best since Snow having anything to do with it is anyone’s guess…)
Some will be fortunate enough to have the deluxe edition, which features 5 more tracks, 4 being different songs which are not available on the regular edition and the other being a reworked version of “Something Very Strange”. The 5 songs add up to an additional 30 minutes of music, which is pretty cool by itself. Honestly, none of them are especially great to me but the hardcore fans will definitely want the additional tracks.
I know I haven’t said much about the other instrumentalists of the band and their performance on this album. Well, everyone is just extremely competent and doing a commendable job here. Ted’s the obvious new addition and Jimmy seems to fit right in as the new drummer. As for Ryo, Dave and Alan, they’re in as great a shape as ever and everything comes together masterfully and the album ends up being the most enjoyable one since the departure of Neal Morse. The band has officially survived and is back in force. They’ve left us a legacy of great progressive rock and it seems they’re still not ready to hand the towel yet!
I don’t know if the new guys brought some renewed (and well-needed) creative juices to the band or if the album being crowd-funded (giving the band no additional pressure from a record label to create) has anything to do with things but Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep is their best material in a decade. After having listened to it for a dozen times now, I can safely say it’s a very well done album from the band and an enjoyable progressive rock album altogether. No, it doesn’t bring nothing completely new to the table or push the envelope of what music is. Those looking for that might want to look into avant-garde instead of progressive rock. When it comes to prog, the Beard know it very well. They’ve carved their own niche and this is the way they’ve done it since the 90s. Really fun stuff, diverse, moody and solidly written. Well done.
Written by Chris Auclair
Ratings Chris 9/10