The Oblivion Particle
So here's my personal confession...after Neal left I felt that Spock's Beard lost their way. Nick is a fine vocalist but there was something quirky about Neal's writing that had a reverential old school quality that I found lacking. The albums didn't grab me. Nick left and Ted Leonard took over on vocals. Whether it was Enchant or Thought Chamber, he's always stood out and he fits Spock's Beard quite well. The new drummer Jimmy Keegan slipped into the blend with no dificulty. The result is (to my mind) a resurgence from this band. Ryo Okumoto always puts on a show - in particular his heavy reliance on Hammond organ reminds me quite a bit of Steve Walsh. In fact the sound of the whole album has a Kansas vibe. Coincidentally David Ragsdale guests on one track. I'm not sure I can remember the last time I said this about a Spock's Beard album - Highly recommended.
"Very few bands are so recognizable that you know who you are listening to within 2 seconds. That is all it takes at the beginning of the first track on The Oblivion Particle to know you are listening to Spock’s Beard. There is no slow buildup or keyboard swells, just straight BAMM!, here we go. And if the opening notes don’t get you, the organ 5 seconds in will. The band’s 12th studio album, this one the second with singer Ted Leonard and drummer Jimmy Keegan, is a culmination of years of perfecting a sound and identity, one that not even 2 major lineup changes could fracture. With this new album, Spock’s Beard up their game again and show that this lineup is here to stay.
If there was a track that defined what Spock’s Beard are, it might be the opening track, “Tides of Time.” There are certain checklist items that mark their sound and they are all in this track. The organ, the harmonies, the acoustic breakdown, the rocking middle and the epic ending. Each member finds their moments to shine on this one and it provides a jaw-dropping sound overload that could leave one satisfied at that moment; only there is another 60 minutes to go.
The album zigs and zags through a few more experimental moments, mixing in some surprises with more traditional Prog elements. The album’s second track and first single is “Minion”, is a perfect example. The opening a cappella harmonies provide the sort of memorable chorus and harmonies we’ve come to expect from the group. While, the following distorted keyboard section is also standard Spock’s Beard. But the verse and middle of the song is much darker and takes us on a surprising journey.
The most unique song the album is the brilliantly titled “Bennett Built a Time Machine”, which the album’s cover is based on. Drummer Jimmy Keegan takes lead on the vocals here and sounds incredible. His voice actually fits the track better than Leonard’s probably would have. The song is one of the album highlights and helps keep the record from sounding redundant. It is almost a pop song most of the way through until turning on the jets and shifting into Prog mode.
There are some heavier moments such as “Hell’s Not Enough” and “Get Out While You Can”. “The Center Line”, however, might be the most similar to something you might have found on their group’s previous album “Brief Nocturnes…” The track opens with an expansive piano recital piece, before turning into a combo Prog-Western bounce with acoustic guitars carrying the groove. Ted’s voice lifts the choruses flawlessly and creates an almost cinematic soundscape.
Even with all of these great moments, it is the album’s closing track that is the best song on the album. “Disappear” might be one of the best songs the band has recorded since Neal left the group. “We could disappear, you and me, we could be, anyplace else not here” sings Ted in the chorus as he wonders what might be if we left with no one knowing what happened. The song is really the closest thing to a ballad on the album, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. 2 minutes in, the song stirs into a frenzy just before a brief cameo by Kansas’ David Ragsdale, appearing with his violin. Of course, the big epic orchestral ending takes us home as Alan Morse provides the finishing touches with his unique finger picking soloing excellence.
Spock’s Beard are Prog rock’s most reliable unit. They have yet to disappoint and always provide comfort to their faithful fans with music that is both inspiring and breathtaking. And while The Oblivion Particle shows a harder edged Spock’s Beard, it also displays a group that shows no signs of slowing down and is ready to take on all comers." - The Prog Report