Progressive Rock/Metal

Spock’s Beard – Beware of Darkness

Their second album, and my favorite. This bands takes quite a beating by many of the more serious prog fans, and it’s pretty easy to see why. They owe a lot of their sound to the “classics” from the 1970’s — Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant, etc. They have the dramatic epics that develop predictably. They have an obvious AOR tendency. Their music isn’t especially complex or challenging. But I think they have enough of their own sound, and enough 1990s rock energy to make them original. They’re a lot of fun to listen to, and a hell of a lot of fun to see live. I find it hard to take these guys seriously as artists trying to create something meaningful. Their strengths lie in rocking out and entertaining. What they lack in originality and emotional content, they make up for with youthful exuberance. Prog-rock, with a greater emphasis on the “rock.”
“The Doorway” is the main highlight of this record, and it’s a high point for Spock’s Beard. It’s over 10 minutes long, but it develops nicely. Catchy melodies, interesting sarcastic lyrics, a nifty little acoustic duet (which they extend in concert these days), and a trick ending. I’ve come to enjoy Al’s guitar playing quite a bit. He’s got a pretty serious blues-rock streak about him, but his melodic playing and penchant for making funny noises suits SB well. Ryo rocks on the Hammond, and his Mellotron parts add just the right amount of melodrama. Dave’s bass emulates Chris Squire very well, with the best Rickenbacker tone I’ve heard yet. Nick’s drumming, although rarely spectacular, is quite good, and provides the necessary driving beat.

That said, I do have a few qualms about this record. First, they could have done without “Thoughts.” It’s a rather uninspired imitation of Gentle Giant’s “Knots.” Second, the bass riff in the verse of “Walking on the Wind” sounds a hell of a lot like Genesis’ “Watcher of the Skies.” Even the title of the song is similar. Hmmm. “Waste Away” is a very straight-forward rock song (with kinda silly lyrics), and although I like it, I imagine a lot of proggers who dislike AOR may not.

If you want to check out Spock’s Beard, but are leery, given the many negative opinions of this band, this album might be the best to start with. It’s got a good mix of quality prog-rock and AOR radio-friendliness. If you like it, try the others, and definitely check them out live. If not, Spock’s Beard is probably not for you.

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