UK prog-metal stalwarts, Threshold, have returned with their much anticipated follow-up to their highly acclaimed 2017 album Legends of the Shires with the impressive Dividing Lines.
Legends of the Shires was one of my top albums of 2017 and effortlessly combined the complexity, sparkle and variety of progressive rock with the driving power of prog metal – all framed by the exuberant return of Glynn Morgan on vocals. This was how to do prog metal. The band raised the bar by brushing away those tired, cliched metal aspects so many other bands cling to as they try to follow in the wake of the likes of Dream Theater, Symphony X and Fates Warning, and the heavy ‘djent’ complexity of Meshuggah and Tessaract, amongst others. A band not afraid to let their keyboards soar as much as the guitar, without overusing the double bass drum sound. One not afraid to have light and shade within their compositions and thoughtful lyrical content too.
When the band described Dividing Lines as the ‘darker, moodier brother’ of Legends of the Shires, I was ever so slightly worried they might be edging away from the ‘new chapter’ the band had begun five years earlier. I need not have been worried unduly. Guitarist Karl Groom and keyboardist Richard West have enough love of both prog and metal in their past to maintain that delicate balance between them. In my view it is slightly heavier and darker than the previous release, but there are still enough progressive influences to temper the more metallic riffing across the whole album.
The opening track, Haunted, starts proceedings off powerfully with a driving beat and Karl’s dark guitar chords propelling the music forward, Richard’s keyboards combining broodingly as Glynn’s clear, melodic vocals deliver the memorable chorus “What doesn’t kill you, leaves you haunted”. Steve Anderson’s subtle bass accompanies some acoustic guitar to create a refreshing contrast midway, with a bright, floating guitar solo taking us through to a galloping conclusion.
Hall of Echoes is even better. Futuristic, sliding keyboard lines over powerful guitar riffing hit you initially, but it then settles down to a more melodic, atmospheric and paced tempo with Glynn’s vocals particularly impressive in that repetitive signature style. “The future is yours in a hall of echoes”. However, the vibrancy and dynamics return with some lovely keyboard and guitar pyrotechnics over Johanne James’ throbbing drums through to the end.
Let It Burn is more traditional prog-metal in style, with the drum and bass more to the fore. Richard provides undulating keyboard patterns with Karl delivering some stunning short and resonant guitar solos, and Glynn at his most menacing and powerful on the refrain, “Let it burn, let it burn, let it burn, let it burn!” Is that the slightest hint of a ‘growl’ in the background too, before dark harmonised vocals spin us through to the end?
Silenced makes use of synthesised vocals and shows just how well Karl’s powerful guitar lines mingle and merge with Richard’s sparkling keyboards, over the dramatic vocal arrangement. The instrumental interplay is to be admired and neither of them ever seems to outstay their welcome by hogging the limelight excessively. It is this unselfish synergy that defines what Threshold do so well and makes the music leaner and less excessive, whilst not diluting the complexity.
The Domino Effect is the first of two epics on the album. With a more progressive and ‘cinematic’ feel to the music, including an orchestrated beginning, it slips between sections of dense heaviness and sweeping majesty. The heartfelt vocals set the apocalyptic tone throughout, and the quieter, more melodic middle breakdown creates a reflective atmosphere. “Here in the afterglow, we’ll never let it go. All we can do is know. No way to talk about it”. There are some impressive guitar solos and twisting keyboard lines throughout, and whilst there is a more fragmented nature to the whole song, the closing return to the earlier theme and a short poignant coda, provide some coherence between the suite of melodies to some extent. As with most of the album, there is an underlying theme of deep concern over the current state of the world at this moment, although all the songs stand alone.
Complex and King of Nothing are more typically prog-metal in nature, with guitar and keyboards weaving together well over a pounding drum and bass rhythm. Once again it is Richard’s playing and Glynn’s strong vocals (especially on the latter track) that always seem to lift them above the usual ‘prog-metal by numbers’ you’d find elsewhere. Both have hooks which tend to grow on you with repeated plays.
By contrast, Lost Along the Way is a refreshing change in style and is more melodic/neo-prog in nature, with even hints of accessible, Magnum-like old-school rock in the lighter, chugging rhythm and catchy chorus. Meanwhile, the relatively short Run is a brooding, mid-paced song, but full of majestic instrumentation and soaring, yearning vocals – with yet another concise but effective guitar workout from Karl after the pick-up in tempo.
The second epic, Defence Condition, closes the album, and ebbs and flows reasonably well. A sinister atmosphere develops from Richard’s keyboard chords, some mighty guitar riffs from Karl and a galloping beat set up by Steve and Johanne, whilst Glynn’s vocals provide an intriguing focus to the track. In some ways more coherent than the earlier epic, it provides Karl with space to shine even more on electric guitar. Snippets of spoken words and ‘Def Con’ warnings are added like seasoning – although the rhyming and militaristic allusions sit a bit uneasily at times. The unsettling ending, with a demon-like call and answer closes the song reasonably well, and overall, it’s a courageous attempt to emulate those multi-sectioned epics on previous albums.
Dividing Lines is another triumph for Threshold and maintains their status of not only the leading lights of British prog-metal but also beyond it. Power and complexity intertwine throughout the album and the musicianship is as high as ever – all bright and clear, due to another fine production job by Karl at his Thin Ice studios in Surrey.
Whilst, for me at least, it might have not quite hit the heights of the more prog-leaning Legends of the Shires, it is so pleasing to report it has come much closer than I thought it might, given the pre-release buzz, and many of the tracks are destined to become live fixtures on future tours. I wholeheartedly recommend it to progressive fans you like their prog with more bite at times, or their prog-metal with more complexity and class than the genre usually offers.
01. Haunted (5:06)
02. Hall of Echoes (6:17)
03. Let it Burn (6:49)
04. Silenced (4:37)
05. The Domino Effect (11:03)
06. Complex (5:50)
07. King of Nothing (5:08)
08. Lost Along the Way (5:19)
09. Run (3:59)
10. Defence Condition (10:44)
Total Time – 64:52
Glynn Morgan – Vocals
Karl Groom – Guitars
Richard West – Keyboards
Steve Anderson – Bass
Johanne James – Drums
Record Label: Nuclear Blast
Formats: CD, Vinyl, Download
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 18th November 2022