This is the long awaited (and long time in coming!) third album from Dream Theater spin-off fusionists Liquid Tension Experiment. A band formed out of the prog metal legends and who recorded 2 albums with the nucleus of Mike Portnoy (drums) Jordan Rudess (keyboards) and John Petrucci (guitar), aided by Tony Levin (bass and chapman stick). Although, to be honest, Jordan only actually joined Dream Theater after the second LTE album and then, as we all know, Mike left in 2010 and further LTE activity looked decidedly unlikely. Well that was the case but two things happened that led to the resumption of activities, these were the worldwide covid virus and the cessation of all touring activities and the other was Mike drumming for John’s latest solo album, ‘Terminal Velocity’. This led to a window of opportunity opening to reconvene LTE once again and cut some new music together. Same crew, same members, just 21 years later…
How wonderful to hear from these folks once again, welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, as ELP once sang.
There is one major change though, the album receives its release through Sony/InsideOut rather than Magna Carta, the label that hosted the first two Liquid Tension Experiment albums in 1998 and 1999 respectively. And, of course, Mike left Dream Theater in 2010, moving onto pastures new. The desire for all to reconvene and record together never really went away, these four musicians have exceedingly high regard for each other’s abilities and enjoy the freedom to make a different type of music together.
Well, that is the backstory to the album let us have a listen to what you can expect from this third instalment of LTE.
The album has a run time of just over 61 minutes, although there is another 50 odd minutes of music on the deluxe CD version. I have not heard that yet, so I can comment, except to propose that this will probably be in a similar vein to the main album, just with longer tracks allowing even more musical virtuosity.
The album opens in rip roaring fashion with Hypersonic coming off the grid like a supercharged Bugatti Veyron firing on all cylinders. The band certainly show that they mean business with bass, drums and guitar spearheading a three pronged sonic attack. The track fair thunders along with barely room for breath, aside from a few keyboard interjections from Jordan, who layers his synths across the maelstrom the other three are creating. It really is an highly impressive opener indeed although you could say it’s a bit of a marmite piece, if you like it, you’ll want to stick around for the rest of the disc however, if it is not to your taste then that’s fine, go and listen to something else and leave the rest of us here in musical ecstasy. That said, after three minutes 15 seconds of this ultra-fast beat, they take a breath and slow things down intensity wise and allow John some room to play a solo passage along with some subtle bass from Tony and support from Mike, Jordan’s stabbing keyboards also providing some great dynamics to the piece. Jordan plays some flowery synth lines in the closing minutes before John and Tony play a dual passage line together preceding the resumption of the frenetic opening first passage. This piece is simply awesome and a great song to start with.
The second song is called Beating The Odds and opens with some furious riffing from John before Jordan lays down some fabulous synth lines. There is a very strong groove to this track which opens out with some very fluid guitar before a punishing riff is played over which Jordan solo’s wildly using his keyboards to stage his own aural assault on the senses. Everything is flawlessly backed by the inventive and impressive rhythm section yet, even in all the mayhem, there is still an extraordinarily strong melodic element here at play. This is all impressive stuff musically.
Liquid Evolution follows, which is basically a duet between bass and keyboards. This piece lays off the bombast and urgency of the earlier tracks to create a different, and more chilled, vibe to it. After the energy of the first two pieces you welcome the change of pace and the chance to both catch your breath and also to pick your jaw up from the floor where the opening salvo of the first two tracks have probably put it! It makes it far subtler in both pace and tone but still packs an impressive groove.
Then it is back to the overkill and surging power with fourth track The Passage of Time, with its sinewy riff snaking outwards. This one gives Mike some space to show off his impeccable timing and chops whilst Jordan adds some excellent piano parts. It really rocks out for sure, although its brutality is tempered by melodic sensibilities making it an impressive calling card, only made better by John’s atypical solo. That guitar riff is so brutal and powerful though that it almost melts your face off, were it not for Jordan’s interjections to anchor the track in melody. Again, the more I listen to this, the more I hear the interplay of the instruments and the overall melody that the track offers.
Track 5 sees the return of Chris and Kevin in Chris and Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey, a duet between Tony and Mike, giving a chance for Tony’s bass to take centre stage on par with the pounding drums of Mr. Portnoy once again. This is a shorter track but is still worthy of the space afforded to it, it is a joy to hear the fine bass playing of Tony Levin so lucidly.
Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue is next, but probably not in a format that you are familiar with. Basically, it gets the full LTE kitchen sink experience and gives ‘over the top’ a new meaning. The track is shamelessly overblown and all the better for it too! there are some fantastic sections to this performance making it probably my favourite on the whole album. The song is long too at 13:16 however, there is not an ounce of excess fat on this piece, it is all killer no filler (as it were).It really belongs to Jordan whose keyboards glide effortlessly through the song, retaining its melody amidst all the grandiloquence of the track, utterly fabulous stuff.
Shades of Hope is totally different and far more chilled, opening with piano and a floating guitar line, played very fluidly here. This piece bleeds emotion for its complete duration, an exceptionally fine track indeed.
Key To The Imagination closes out the album, it has a recurrent heavy guitar riff running throughout against which Jordan is playing some great synth fills and orchestral voicings along with John’s sweet guitar lines. Tony holds down the bottom end in his usual eloquent manner whilst Mike’s drum hold this mix together. It really is really very good indeed and gives equal room for each player to shine in their respective field and brings things to a great end with its almost middle eastern sounding tone, it really impresses.
Well, that 61 minutes went by fast and I was sure impressed by all that I heard. I urge you to give it space in your listening as here we have four maestros all playing at the very top of their game, taking chances and making some utterly fabulous music.
Miss this one at your peril!
Released 16th April, 2021.
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