Hourglass Oblivious to the obvious
If Hourglass wanted to really create some waves in the genre known as progressive metal, the way to do it is take nearly 5 years between releases and put together a masterpiece like Oblivious to the Obvious, a stunning 2CD set that contains everything that fans of the prog-metal style want and crave. That's right, a double CD set totalling 140 minutes of mind-bending music, squarely in the Dream Theater/Fates Warning/Vanden Plas mold, featuring soaring vocals, crunchy guitar work, lots of solos from both the guitar and keyboards, plenty of symphonic elements, and memorable melodies. And, did I mention epic? Well, silly me...yes, lots of long tracks abound on this one, including the monumental title track that takes up over 30 minutes on Disc 2.
As there is so much music here, don't expect all of Oblivious to the Obvious to sink in and connect with you on the first listen, or even the second. There's a lot to take in here, and much of it is demanding and extremely complex stuff. However, after multiple spins, the crushing riffage, the delicate keyboard passages, the mix of powerful and lush vocals, all start to play out. Hard to pick favorites, as this almost plays out like a complete, epic work, but lead off cut "On the Brink" is a manic, heavy slice of prog-metal heaven, and "Homeward Bound" offers up plenty of goergeous, melodic prog, somewhat in the style of classic Enchant. If you like intricate, complex metal with plenty of nuance, there's "Pawn II", and of course, the two major epics, "38th Floor" and the title track are amazing, extended journey's into well constructed, heavy prog, featuring some splendid ensemble playing from the guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. I should also mention the excellent instrumental "Delirium", a fine place to hear all the musical virtuosity that this band possesses, though they show that throughout each and every track on this set. Kudos to singer Michael Turner, whose lead vocals are simply outstanding here, especially on the already mentioned "38th Floor", where his soulful crooning on the second half of the piece just sticks with you long after the song ends.
It's a shame that more people aren't talking about this one, as it's easily one of the highlights of 2009 so far, though surely to get eclipsed by the latest Dream Theater release when all is said and done. Hourglass are the real deal folks, and if you don't believe me, dive head first into Oblivious to the Obvious and find out for yourself.
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Dutch Progressive Rock Page Review
Hourglass is a progressive metal band originating from Utah (USA). Their debut The Journey Into dates from 2002, while its successor the (DPRP recommended!) Subconsious is from 5 years ago. With this double album the band created their magnum opus whilst replacing their vocalist (again). The line up at present is: Brick Williams (guitars), Michael Turner (vocals), Eric Blood (bass & vocals), Jerry Stenquist (keyboards) and John Dunston (drums).
To release a double album with the length these two CD’s have, looks like a pretty daring effort to me, but Hourglass manages to surprise me over and over again. On The Brink starts of in the vein of Dream Theater, the first real riffs sound a bit like As I Am and after some bombastic choir chanting, Turner starts to sing with a voice resembling Ted Leonard’s (Enchant) quite a lot, except for the few growling screams as if he was Devin Townsend for a moment. Eric Blood’s bass playing is outstanding, and different or should I say for more prominent than most other prog-metal acts. Drummer John Dunston plays a lot like Paul Craddick, Enchant’s original drummer, so I would conclude Hourglass has an extremely powerful, versatile rhythm section at least comparable to Enchant’s, perhaps even better. Stenquist plays piano but switches to synths and orchestrations very smoothly. As could be expected, all longer tracks have extensive instrumental parts, a real treat and joy for any prog-metal lover!
Homeward Bound begins with a piano, orchestrations are added and subsequently Williams’ guitar and Blood’s bass. The second part consist of a nice tune in the vein of Enchant again, more poppy and less heavy than the opening track. The third part is featuring Brick Williams on guitar, accompanied by Blood’s busy bass, richly filling drum-breaks and piano. Pawn II opens like Xanadu by Rush but the ‘acoustic’ guitar makes a difference. The atmosphere of undisturbed tranquillity changes when the riffs and the rhythm-section are driving the music in a much heavier, ‘slow head-banging’ direction. An interlude by Blood, Dunston, Senquist and Williams leads to a piece sounding much like Enchant again, with both quiet and up tempo passages and a lot of different influences. Stenquist’s piano and Turner’s softly singing voice are featured in Faces, a breathtaking beautiful ballad. In the second part also bass and orchestrations are added. Halfway the song there’s a symphonic interlude followed by still symphonic music and nice clean guitars by Williams in an atmosphere like Yes was meeting Pink Floyd, while Blood’s bass playing sounds like Klaus Peter Matziol’s (Eloy). In the epic 38th Floor mainly top class progressive metal with a huge variety of styles and sounds. Again halfway a lovely enchanting interlude by bass, strings and percussion, followed by a equally slow part by the whole band. Brick Williams’ gentle guitar dominates the last part of this track, almost Pink Floyd going jazzy before the music returns to the first theme but at first played in more jazzy/funky fashion.
CD2 opens with Façade, at first a delightful piece played by keyboards, later a melody on guitar sounding a bit like a saxophone or trumpet, then awesome bass playing by Blood and subtle percussion. The second part certainly brings back the sounds from Dream Theater and Enchant. In Skeletons some scary sounds by the guitar, then slow, dark and heavy riffs with a more up tempo chorus and some nice solo’s by synth and guitar. The obligatory ballad on this CD is called Estranged featuring acoustic guitar and Turner singing like Ted Leonard again; very nice strings too. In the second half of the song piano, bass en percussion are added. Delirium is an all instrumental piece in the style of Shadow Gallery playing Liquid Tension Experiment, only the piano is used a lot more.
The final track, over half an hour, is the title track divided in 5 parts. The lyrics are about a man who a most miserable childhood but reflects this on the outside world. As he is diagnosed with cancer het starts looking back at his life and realizes he was an awful man. Before meeting his maker he tries to set things right. The first part No Chance is a catchy piece with very nice melodies, Stenquist using the piano again, Williams predominantly the acoustic guitar, a lovely classical interlude, and -it gets repeated- superb bass playing and drumming. Part 2, Realization, is a slow gentle piece featuring Turner’s versatile vocals and Stenquist’s piano. Part 3, Remember Me, sounds like a crossover between Enchant and early Shadow Gallery. Some mean heavy riffs kick off part 4, In My Hands, the piano counterpointing Williams’ heavy guitar and Turner proves he can sing like Ray Alder too. The grand finale, Redemption, is instrumental and here we hear extremely nice symphonic music next to more heavy stuff featuring solo’s, first by Stenquist and then by Williams, while with the latter the accompaniment by drums, bass and piano give the originally progressive music a funky touch.
In conclusion this double album is top-class progressive rock with a metal edge to it, played by four highly talented musicians and a superb performance from vocalist Michael Turner. Highly recommended!
Oblivious to the obvious
Pure progressive rock and metal, Oblivious to the Obvious is a diverse, layered, meaty, album. The style is reminiscent of Dream Theater, but Hourglass is a talented, quality band in its own right.
Hourglass fans have waited almost five years for this release, and Hourglass rewarded them with two full CDs worth of music--almost 140 minutes. This could have easily been two full albums. Brick Williams, the only member of the band to play on all four Hourglass albums, plays guitar. John Dunston plays drums. Jerry Stenquist returns to the band, after a brief hiatus, to play keyboards. Eric Blood plays base. Continuing the trend of featuring a new vocalist on each album, Oblivious to the Obvious features vocalist Michael Turner. All band members are high-quality talent, each an expert musician.
Oblivious to the Obvious is a bipolar child, at times heavy and oppressive, at times light and refreshing. The shortest song is about seven minutes, the longest comes in at over thirty. This is ighly recommended.
Track by Track Review
On the Brink
Oblivious to the Obvious begins heavy and oppressive; this first song showcases the band's metal talent. The first three minutes of this twelve-minute composition are purely instrumental, dominated mostly by guitars, drums, and bass. Keyboards and chanting voices join, and then, a full four minutes in, Michael Turner appears on vocals. His voice handles the metal demands of this track with skill. Eight minutes in, the instrumental returns, and the musicians demonstrate their skill. Brick Williams' guitar solos are particularly impressive here. The vocalist then returns, speaking, screaming, and singing, to finish the song.
The second track starts out on a much lighter note, with Jerry Stenquist's keyboards. The vocals make it clear that this is a progressive rock song. This is not metal; this is more in the style of IQ than Dream Theater. The ten-minute song features some great song-writing, and some superb guitars and keyboards. It's one of my favorite tracks.
The sequel to "Pawn," from their second album, The Journey Into, Pawn II is, at over thirteen minutes, significantly longer. It is all Spanish guitars for two minutes, and then other instruments come in to make this a metal song. Fast-moving electric guitars lead this track along. Vocals come in, and the song, earlier an independent piece, now becomes an obvious sequel to "Pawn," new vocalist notwithstanding. A heavy instrumental section enters at the eight minute mark, and it sounds like a Liquid Tension Experiment jamming session.
This twelve-minute song is the highlight of the album, particularly the first five or six minutes. It starts with keyboards, sounding every bit as beautiful as Beethoven, and then we get smooth, melodic vocals. The tone changes six minutes in, slow Spanish guitars join the keyboards, and eventually drums, rolling guitars, and vocals demand a hypnotic attention.
Spanish guitars again start this, joined by drums, fast-moving electric guitars, and keyboards. This is standard Hourglass, with some Spanish guitars thrown in for fun. It's quite metal, but not overbearingly heavy. Eleven minutes in the tone changes to one similar to Arena's "The Visitor." At sixteen minutes, the tone changes yet again, back to standard Hourglass metal, complete with fast-paced electric guitar. The song fades slowly on keyboards and guitar.
The second disc begins slowly, like something off of Marillion's Afraid of Sunlight or Seasons End. This being Hourglass, however, the vocals take a while longer to come in. When they do, they serve merely as another instrument, with no actual words attached. Layers of electric guitar come in. Actual lyrics take a full six minutes to enter, and then the song's essence, standard Hourglass but with a catchy chorus, appears. The last half of this fifteen-minute track turns into more rock and metal; one section features a very cool guitar undercurrent.
As the name suggests, this track is, at least for the most part, heavy and dark. Some of the lighter moments remind me of Ice Age (another excellent under-rated progressive rock/metal band). The lighter moments are, however, few and far between. Turner's angry vocals take turns with Williams' angry guitars. At just under seven minutes, this is the shortest track on the album.
Turner's vocals are the main feature in this melodic prog rock broken-heart ballad. It appears as if the band's search for the perfect vocalist is over--Turner demonstrates the soft side of his voice here, and the results are spectacular. An interesting vocal interplay in the second half of this song adds an additional dimension. This is a short track, at just over seven minutes. It's one of my favorites.
Sounds like King Crimson here, with strange distortions and experiments in sound. A song emerges from the noise, electric machines and drums. Most of the songs on this album have large instrumental sections, but this is the only one that's entirely an instrumental. Imagine Robert Fripp, occasionally playing with metal sounds, and you've got a good idea of what this song sounds like. It's ten minutes of craziness.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 1--No Chance
The longest song of the album, at over thirty minutes, is broken into five parts. The first, "No Chance," rides on a thick carpet of keyboards and guitars. The vocals are crisp and the lyrics are some of Brick Williams best.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 2--Realization
Part 1 merges into part 2 via lush keyboards. Turner's vocals are again crisp, supported by guitars and keyboards, and background vocals. Like Part 1, Part 2 is dark and soft. Dunston's drums, which have seemed muted throughout the album, get their chance to shine here.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 3--Remember Me
Proggy goodness, and then vocals with a steady bass and the rest of the works. Part 3, unlike the previous parts, could potentially be considered metal. Elements of the sound Hourglass perfected in their previous albums are evident, but there's some great guitar play and prog here for diversity. This is good stuff here.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 4--In My Hands
Classic metal electric guitar sound, repeating the same theme in the background as the foreground changes. Part 4 is clearly in progressive metal territory. Great, clear metal vocals, and the last words on the album are spoken.
Oblivious to the Obvious: Part 5--Redemption
Instrumental progressive rock and metal close the song and the album. This is more structured than a jamming session. Each instrument gets time to play, including the bass and drums. An excellent close to an excellent album.