In spite of 25 years of shifting lineups, Threshold has a sound that even casual fans can identify almost immediately; largely thanks to the longtime keyboard and guitar duo of Richard West and Karl Groom. Listening through their discography, you can hear a clear evolution of the band, but the moment the first guitar attack of the album hits, you know it’s Threshold. On Legends of the Shires that moment is the first chord of “Small Dark Lines” which also serves as the single and lead video for the album.
Threshold’s core sound revolves around the use of guitars which are almost impossibly simultaneously thick, heavy, and articulate, mixed with classic synth sounds. The bass and drums track tightly with the guitars. Overdubs and guitar harmonies are found all over the album. Expect frequent use of choir-style vocal overdubs. Be ready to sing along with the choruses after a couple spins. In short, it’s big, heavy, complex, and melodic.
Threshold also has the market cornered on new/old singers. Originally fronted by Damian Wilson, then by Glynn Morgan, then Damian Wilson was back. After that, Wilson was replaced by the late Andrew “Mac” McDermott, and Wilson returned for the two albums before Legends of the Shires, only to again be replaced by Glynn Morgan.
Considering the results, I can state with confidence that this change is good. Surpassing my recent favorite, 2012’s March of Progress, Threshold has produced perhaps the best album of their entire catalogue in Legends of the Shires. The album balances energetic, anthemic metal songs with softer moments as well as two “epics” lasting more than 10 minutes each. One such song, “The Man Who Saw Through Time” is possibly a new progressive metal classic. It’s filled with shifting dynamics, memorable melodies, and technical, complex playing that complements the song and the story being told.
The album tells a sort of dual story with lyrics that are as much about a nation trying to find its place in the world as it is about a man trying to find his place in society. “We’re going nowhere fast, but at least we know we’re not alone” opines Glynn Morgan in “Trust the Process” one of the more overtly political tracks on the album. Lyrically, it’s an interesting concept and an interesting balance between the personal and political themes; comparing and contrasting the broken promises of a man with the broken promises of a nation. While there are clear political themes, the lyrics don’t cross the line into the sort of preachiness that’s likely to turn off listeners who disagree with the political opinions of the band.
The three titular tracks “The Shires” (parts 1, 2, and 3) serve as a framing device for the album. Part 1 provides a basic pastoral theme played on acoustic guitars with some key lyrics. Part 2 takes the theme and expands it into a more developed song where the folky instrumentation gives way to heavy layers of guitars and keyboard with a short bass highlight. Part 3 is perhaps the aftermath – pensive piano with the lyrics “Take a little time and start erasing all the lines”, a reference back to “Small Dark Lines.”
Legends of the Shire is proof that a band can stay fresh and relevant nearly 30 years from their founding and nearly 25 past the release of their first album – not by adding more elements of the music that the cool kids like these days – but simply by writing good, interesting songs. It’s also filled with variety. No two songs take the same path, and each has a unique character, highlighting various aspects of the band. Threshold has given us a real gift of a progressive metal album in Legend of the Shires, and even with a total running time of 83 minutes it will leave you wanting more.
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