Threshold would be prime contenders if the rock and metal industry had a lifetime achievement award for the most underrated act. The Surrey quintet have been innovating in the progressive metal scene since 1993 yet remain unknown in their own country. Now on their twelfth album and fifth for Nuclear Blast since 2007’s Dead Reckoning, the group have a similar standing to Haken – Germany is their natural home market rather than the UK or the USA. Indeed, their 2017 effort peaked at number thirteen in the German album charts. The likes of Kerrang! and Metal Hammer might ignore them while they persevere with metalcore and a resurgent nu metal, but Threshold deserve more acclaim for the quality of their output. Dividing Lines is yet another imaginative piece of progressive metal with a finger on the pulse of today’s disenchantment with public life and the political process.
We hear pessimism all around us in our modern political discourse. The echo chambers that serve the narcissism and narrow-minded intolerance of people that inhabit the same sphere of ideology is one such anxiety that is now part of today’s fear of decline and degeneration. Another group who provokes the ire of the establishment are those who dislike the uninvited threat to national identity and worry about the disruption caused by globalisation and mass immigration. Threshold are here to offer some optimism if only we can see through the obstacles put in our way by outside forces with nefarious agendas. As you’d expect, they make no compromise on their musical imagination to communicate their message, and they avoid dogma. You can enjoy this record wherever your allegiances lie in today’s fractured arena of politics.
Now settled on Glynn Morgan as their permanent singer following an on-off relationship with Damian Wilson (lead vocalist 1992-1993, 1996-1997, 2007-2017) and the death of fan favourite, Andrew McDermott (lead vocalist 1998-2007), the members of Threshold can concentrate on doing what they do best. You know from the first downward stab of the guitars in ‘Haunted’ that this will be an hour of your time with no regrets. The crunchy hard rock delight of the verse is how the comeback album from King’s X should have sounded if they were firing on any cylinders. Riffs metamorphose in colourful patterns; bass lines leave their percussive foundations for pastures new; keyboards shine like celestial deities. Glynn Morgan takes command of the microphone like a modern incarnation of David Coverdale but with more masculine traits. If only Queensrӱche could still write a chorus as poignant as ‘Hall of Echoes’, which uses the imagery of drawbridges and fortresses to describe the populist right wing instinct of those that want to return to a mythical past. Dream Theatre’s Awake album provides the sustenance for more than one of the sections here. A hard rock and traditional metal amalgamation pierced with the prog music of Marillion is one way to look at it. Between the Buried and Me minus the extreme metal parts is another perspective. Either way, it never fails to dazzle.
Unlike most of today’s metal acts, Threshold have something to say. The obligatory lament of how mankind cannot stop destroying the planet with greenhouse gases forms the backbone of ‘Let it Burn’. If you’ve heard this a million times, you can concentrate on the Fates Warning textures and exquisite musicianship. Listen how Morgan punctuates the end of each chorus line with a warm falsetto note for poignant effect – this is a singer at the top of his game. You can imagine the strange vocoder intro of ‘Silenced’ as a feature on the next Haken record. Can you see the waterfalls and shiny rocks before you in the luscious acoustic guitar picking at the beginning of ‘The Domino Effect’? The last verse is as heart-rendering as the musical mood: “And through it all/ We thought that we could rule the world/ The last to know/ That we were all just dominoes.” They waste not one note in the eleven minutes of this epic, often alternating between mid-range thrash metal tempos and hard rock extravagances. You might hear a semblance of Megadeth’s ‘Dread and the Fugitive Mind’ – that’s because Glynn Morgan demonstrates what it would sound like with better vocal projection and less snarl. He can also match the underappreciated finesse of Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon in the husky croon of his voice. The second part of this song could grace any of the great art-pop records of the 1980s, just as the final segment enjoys enticing you with a Tubular Bells mystery of trepidatious keyboards and drop-tuned guitars.
There’s always a worry that the dross of AOR might be lurking around the corner in a Dream Theater or Fates Warning record, but Threshold stay well clear of the earnest 1980s rock clichés on Dividing Lines. Metallica’s black album inspires the heavier parts of this LP, especially in the rocking force of ‘Complex’, which takes a sceptical view of the information age in our present era of big tech. A wider palette emerges on ‘Lost Along the Way’. Here, the band draw from Killing Joke’s mid 1980s output as if aiming for a prog metal interpretation of the group’s 1986 single, ‘Adorations’. The question is not how long are these songs, but how did they start and finish with such ease? Five minutes can pass by in the illusion of three. How ironic that the album’s standout song should be the only one below four minutes. ‘Run’ reminds you that Threshold made the right decision to stick with Glynn Morgan on this record. Get down on one knee and clench your fingers into fist shapes. Strain your biceps. Look up at the heavens. Purse your lips and pray. This is how you’ll feel when you imagine yourself belting the lyrics to the chorus. There’s nothing subtle about the anguish of emotion here, and why should there be?
Many things can waste an hour of your life, but this is not one of them. Threshold are masters of their craft and leaders in their field. Why more people do not acknowledge this remains one of the great mysteries of modern rock and metal.
Release Date: 18/11/2022
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Standout tracks: Hall of Echoes, The Domino Effect, Run
Suggested Further Listening: Haken – Affinity (2016), Dream Theater – Awake (1994), Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void (2020)