Album Review: Thought Machine - “Maiden Voyage”

Thought Machine
“Maiden Voyage”

Review by Dan Nightingale

“Maiden Voyage” kicks off with an in your face instrumental pounding, like the end of an classic rock set, with a massive explosion of strings and rapid noodling, before hitting the brakes and fading into the requisite “Diablo soundtrack” synths, as I like to call them, then right into the falsetto lyrics and reverb. It's Prog Rock, clearly, but it's also from Sydney, Nova Scotia, and it's not from 1976, either. Thought Machine are a four piece band who formed in 2007. They've clearly been working their asses off in that time, as “Maidan Voyage” displays a level of virtuosity often associated with artists like Chris Squire, Joe Satrani, or David Gilmour.

The band claim to be influenced by “Rush, YES, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin, Porcupine Tree, Genesis, Pink Floyd, The Mars Volta, and Beatles.” That's a pretty accurate description of the album, so it might be fair to say these guys wear their influences on their sleeves; but that works here, as the songs themselves are not highly derivative of previous artists, despite the mixture of many styles stereotypically associated with the “prog rock” genre.

Personally I am a fan of some of those bands, and Thought Machine certainly hit the mark at the same level as most of them in terms of skill, style, songwriting, and an excellent sounding album from a production point of view. To describe every song in detail would require far more room than I have available, for each song displays a breadth of influence, form, style, tone, and content. Opening track “The Binding” runs the gamut of nearly every great 70's sound up to and included the 80's shredding guitar solo. The bass tone on songs like “Intricate Designs” is sublime and deep, so do yourself a favour and listen to this album on something more than ipod headphones or computer speakers.

“The Frayed End” recalls vintage King Crimson, with almost 80's pop vocals, and I have to give props to the band for including both a lyric sheet and a full bio, making any reviewers job that much easier! Clearly all the elements of the sound - the lyrics, the guitar, the drums, the bass, and in between track swells and noises – went though a huge amount of thought and perfecting. Tracks are also grouped into movements, and the first four tracks form a suite which reprises the opening track by the 4th song.../track. It can get a little confusing, but there's nothing confusing about the music, which is sure to please any fan of classic rock, prog, or groove oriented music.

“Hold On (Reprise)” starts off with interlocking guitars, while washy synth joins in and transitions into deep bass swells, like a trance album. Beefy bass lines funk it up over syncopated guitar runs. How front man Brett Waye manages to provide vocals, seriously muscular basslines, and synth at the same time remains a question to be answered by the live show, though it seems that for the most part only two of the elements are present at any time, and it's not hard to picture him using floor pedal synth ala Geddy Lee – though fortunately as a bass playing front man, Waye displays neither of Lee's higher pitched tendencies on either bass or vocals, save for a few scattered and well deserved higher register bass runs through out the album.

“Chalk Lines” marks the beginning of a new suite of songs, with lyrics that are typically abstract - “Why have we made our limits so small?” Asks Waye, “Drawing these prison bars around our minds.” While with a few tweaks, I would have had no qualms about hearing this as a fully instrumental album, clearly including a lyrical content was important to the band, and no doubt serves as a more accessible bridge to a wider audience, considering that the prospective audience for prog rock in Sydney, Nova Scotia, in 2010 is surely decidedly smaller than most genres. Frankly, as a town mostly known to me for punk, metal, and celtic music, Thought Machine's album catches me pleasantly off guard with it's (in the context) utterly original sound.

“Persuasion” starts off slow before morphing into a catchy rock jam sing along. “Persuasion,” sings Waye truistically, “is a powerful thing.” Dickens it's not, but it's powerful enough to give you a start when the final chorus kicks back in after a quick fade, and again you have to admire the effort for a band who clearly have the musical prowess to entertain solely with their riffs. A smooth segue into the next track's heavy, deep synth are quickly followed up rapid rolling deep drums and squealing guitars that seem to come from all sides.

Perhaps my only complaint about the album is that I would have liked to hear some more melodic, loose style guitar solos, hinted at for the briefest moment around 1:49 of “The Fall of the House Atreides,” though there was nothing wrong with the technically proficient shredding that dominates most of the other solos. By the time track 8 or 9 rolls around, most bands albums have come to a close, but this one runs a full hour and 5 minutes, with barely a song under 4 minutes (save track 9's fast, twisted groove) , and most around the 8 minute mark.

I would be remiss not to talk at least briefly about the albums artwork. Created by Kenzie Gunn and Mathew Smith, as laid out by Smith, the art mixes a strange but appropriate combination of steampunk esq gears, nautical themes, death, and even a hint of traditional celtic design as seen in the front cover logo. The pale green outlines of the band inside the lyric sheet at first seem like random splotches and background designs until your eyes pick up first on the shape of guitars, then faces, then drums, until you see what appears to be the agape mouth of front man Waye singing the very words you're reading on the page.

My only other complaint is that, as mentioned, the record is quite lengthy, but it's more than made up for by the quality of production (attributed to engineer Jamie Foulds), and the strength of the songs themselves, as well as of the individual instruments. As this is their debut album, the band no doubt has a good 2 to 3 years of material packed into this disc, so they can be forgiven for wanting to pack in as much music as possible. According to the release bio, the band is intended to move to Halifax to continuing perusing their music career, so we hope to see further material from them (not to mention a live show). They are exactly the type of band one imagines creating a fantastic follow up album – concept album? Elements of electronics? Something more ambient, akin to King Crimson style improve compositions? Or something all together different, but played with the passion and commitment these guys clearly demonstrate on their first commercial release.



Anonymous said...

Excellent album!!! I love this band more than spock's beard or any newer Prog save porcupine tree and marillion!! Keep up the good work guys!

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent cd. Been listening to it alot. Great work guys. Finally something out of Cape Breton that isn't "traditional".Great "live" show too !!!!!Go see them - Buy the album -support our own.

Anonymous said...

Yeah this is right on the money. Everything about this album is excellent. They wear their influences well, without copying them! Awesome work guys, Buy this cd!!!!