"Snow" (Metal Blade; 2002)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

I know I'm about a year late with my review of "Snow," but it certainly isn't for a lack of interest in Spock's Beard. I was introduced to Spock's Beard when I reviewed "Day For Night" back in 1999 (see review below). As I recall, "Day For Night" was one of my first reviews for Rough Edge and it was a wonderful introduction to the classic '70 progressive rock sound which I had largely ignored throughout my life.

"Snow" tells the tale of a teenage albino's unlikely ascent to rock stardom and realization that he might be the messiah. All of the virtuoso elements that make Spock's Beard a joy to listen to are intact with "Snow" although I might suggest that the band's pop sensibilities are even more refined on this effort compared to "Day For Night" or "V." Rarely does a song stretch past 7-minutes -- no doubt that the execution of a concept album helps in keeping each song to a digestible minimum length. However, the music is seamless and it sounds like one big piece of music with distinctive parts forming the whole.

The musical skills of Spock's Beard are in copious evidence as you might expect. I've certainly come to expect dazzling interplay and strong flashes of musical ingenuity after hearing prior Spock's Beard efforts. The music on "Snow" is the most important part of the storytelling as the band uses the moods created by the songs to bolster the tale. As I've mentioned in my previous reviews of the band's albums, elements of progressive rock legends Kansas, Genesis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and King Crimson are all swirled together to form the basis of the Spock's Beard sound. "Snow" certainly does not disappoint as Spock's Beard melds all these influences into their own distinctive brand of progressive rock.

In the end I must say that I probably enjoyed "Snow" more than "Day For Night," but perhaps not as much as I liked "V." As a concept album, "Snow" fulfills the requirement that a story be told through music and lyrics in proper sequence. "Snow" is a captivating album that should not disappoint long-time fans of the band although it is not likely to bring any new fans to the group.

Even with my abbreviated, promotional version only containing 12 of the album's 26 tracks it's easy for me to say that "Snow" sounds cohesive and complete. I can only imagine that the two-disc version does an even better job of storytelling.

"Snow" was Neal Morse's last project with Spock's Beard. He left the band on a high note as "Snow" is a work of grand ambition that fulfills the band's promise as a heavyweight in the prog rock field.

"Snow" was produced by Spock's Beard.

Spock's Beard: Neal Morse on lead vocals, piano, synthesizer, and acoustic guitar; Ryo Okumoto on Hammond Organ and mellotron; Dave Meros on bass, French horn and backing vocals; Nick D'Virgilio on drums, percussion, and backing vocals; and Alan Morse on guitars, cello, sampler, and backing vocals.

For more information visit http://www.spocksbeard.com. 

"V" (Metal Blade/Radiant; 2000)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

As you might have read in my earlier review of "Day For Night" (below) Spock's Beard really isn't heavy metal. Spock's Beard is very cool progressive rock and this alone makes it worthy of inclusion to Rough Edge pages. Some would argue that Spock's Beard is on Metal Blade only to give the label a little credibility in the music critic circles, but that shouldn't stop anyone from enjoying what Spock's Beard has to offer.

"V" marks its beginning with a 16-minute opus "At The End Of The Day."  "At The End Of The Day" features very heavy rhythmic juts throughout the '70s psychedelic organ musings. What follows are four songs of four to six minutes in length that could easily find their way onto radio, but - given the nature of radio programming in Y2K - I'd bet the farm without worry that it wouldn't happen. "Revelation," "Thoughts (Part II)," "All On A Sunday," and "Goodbye To Yesterday" are all solid tunes. Of this melodic foursome "All On A Sunday" is my favorite because it reminds me of lazy summer days with nothing to do but absorb life passing by through the varied images on TV. 

"V" ends with "The Great Nothing" which is a 27-minute opus that manages to combine the style and substance of Kansas, Steely Dan, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd. Lyrically, the song manages to explore the collective effort that Spock's Beard puts in to facilitating its muse: sometimes the creative process is frustrating while other times the band feels that it is just a channel from a higher musical force. 

Great vocal harmonies are a hallmark of a Spock's Beard CD. Four of the five band members sing and there are a variety of harmonies at work (and play!) that provides "V" with a superior vocal performance. 

I really enjoy Spock's Beard and their attention to detail, the high level of precision in their musicianship, and the attention to song writing. However, Rough Edge readers need only pursue Spock's Beard if their broad musical explorations take them away from the aggressive vocals and distorted guitars that are so prevalent in heavy metal. 

Spock's Beard is Neal Morse on lead vocals, piano, synthesizer, and acoustic guitar; Ryo Okumoto on Hammond Organ and mellotron; Dave Meros on bass, French horn and backing vocals; Nick D'Virgilio on drums, percussion, and backing vocals; and last, but certainly not least, Alan Morse on guitars, cello, sampler, and backing vocals.

For more information visit http://www.spocksbeard.com

"Day For Night" (Metal Blade/Radiant; 1999)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Although the progressive pop of Spock's Beard has more in common with '70s Emerson Lake & Palmer and early Genesis rather than today's eclectic metal scene, there are still a lot of interesting musical edges in "Day For Night" that would appeal to a fan of heavy metal and hard rock. 

There is no doubting the virtuosity of Spock's Beard, yet there is an effortless manner about the music, which leads to a wealth of enjoyment. It is unlikely that you'll hear Spock's Beard on the radio anytime soon because their songs don't fit radio's restrictive format. 

It's great to hear a band create engaging songs like you'll find on "Day For Night" - the tunes make this listening experience not only surprising, but exquisite as well.

The pop leanings of "Day For Night" focus on sweet melodies that would appeal to a majority of music lovers. The progressive nature of the disc is evident in the challenging song structures, the robust musical interplay, and the appropriate and selective nature of the compositions. Even the sequencing of the tracks adds a dimension to the experience rarely found on other discs.

My ears detect a little bit of Frank Zappa (albeit without the twisted intellectual humor), a touch of Rush, the intensity of Dream Theater, the atmospheric quality of Pink Floyd, as well as the pop sensibility of Phil Collins and Def Leppard. Basically, "Day For Night" is music with the trajectory of a guided missile - stealthy music that is able to slip under your brain's auditory hardwiring to provide a new and seductive experience. 

The title track has complex yet joyous bounce that makes the tune stand out. "Gibberish," as you might guess from the title, has a complex vocal harmony yet doesn't seem overbearing. The understated "The Distance To The Sun" has a creative flair unheard of in recent memory. "Crack The Big Sky," clocking in at nearly ten minutes, is a tour-de-force of interspersed musical inventiveness with the drum rhythms and bass guitar taking center stage. 

And the highlights don't stop there. "Mommy Comes Back" shows the band flexing its funk muscles while "Skin" displays a confident understanding of modern alternative music. "The Healing Colors of Sound" has a definite progressive intensity (evokes the sound and style of Al DiMeola and John McLaughlin), yet remains very listenable and enjoyable. 

It is difficult to identify weak spots on the disc, but there are a few tunes that seem a bit unsteady. "Lay It Down" is a ballad that avoids most, but not all, clichés. "The Gypsy," although with some strong musical interaction, seems a bit cumbersome relative to the ease of the other songs on the disc.

All in all, "Day For Night" is a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience that has made me realize how important a role of the originators of progressive rock have had in the recent progressive rock and metal resurgence.

The band consists of six very talented individuals. Alan Morse performs lead guitars, cello, and background vocals. Neal Morse, the lead vocalist, also plays rhythm guitar and keyboards. Nick D'Virgilio, who has performed with Genesis and Peter Gabriel, plays drums. Dave Meros (who has worked with Eric Burdon) plays bass  and, rounding out the band is Ryo Okumoto (who has performed with Eric Clapton and Phil Collins) on keyboards.

For more information visit the band's official website at http://www.spocksbeard.com and get the flavor of this progressive gem.

Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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