Age Of Impact

Explorers Club

Magna Carta Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Matthew Turk


Every so often, an album comes along that manages to fuse multiple different styles in a new and interesting way, creating music that is both interesting and stylistically unique.

This album is, sadly, not at all like that.

If anything, this album is a collection of random solos that speak with no voice, lyrics that sound stupid at best, and an overblown cast that looks for quality in quantity.

This "supergroup" (and I use that term lightly) is the brainchild of Trent Gardner, the man described by Magna Carta as the messiah of Progressive Rock. It's a long-winded attempt at a concept album describing humanity, and our efforts in life to expand beyond our capabilities. Or something. It's pretty standard fare - lots of vague descriptions of our uselessness as a race, and our various failures with our collective lives. The lyrics, however, are usually just vehicles for the vocalists, none of whom are in prime form here. James LaBrie, the vocalist from Dream Theater, sounds like he's doing an impression of himself.

The first track is sixteen minutes long - about twice as long as it needs to be. According to the booklet, which highlights just about every single solo (which says something about the focus of the album right there) John Petrucci has five guitar solos in the first song alone. What the hell? Petrucci, also of Dream Theater, is faster than a rabbit after the first date - but so very uninspired in this context. Five solos? Five notated solos? Why, oh why, are we given solo after solo? This is progressive rock! It's supposed to be about playing together, sticking out when you shine, not every thirty seconds! To Petrucci's credit, however, the second to last solo is pretty good - it evokes the feeling of the lyrics, if it is a bit overshadows by Gardner's keys at the very end.

The second track, "Fading Fast," starts out quite nicely. It's very atmospheric, with some acoustic guitar and very Pink Floyd-ish keys. A sudden shift in style brings us further into the jungle style - which is quite interesting. The feeling is very clear of being in a dense, tropical location. The Wakeman-esque soloing that follows is rather good, if a bit extended and pompous. Yet again, however, we're given a Petrucci solo, which has little to nothing to do with the music that precedes it or the atmosphere it occupies. Another distinct shift brings us whining vocal delivery of lyrics that seem cut-and-pasted from the cutting room floor of "A Pleasant Shade Of Gray." The background music sounds like a Phil Collins song, until Petrucci comes in my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 yet again. This succeeds in drawing out the song further - until every last musical idea is squeezed from the turnip that is this album. To be fair, it does pick up a bit in the last few moments, but that hardly saves the song.

A deft segue slips us into "No Returning" which features James LaBrie as the vocalist. The switches between styles get a bit more interesting here, but they continue to be drawn out far beyond the stretch of the musical idea - and we're given more and more solos by Petrucci and Gardner, which start to sound the same after a while. The flute solos by Michael Bemesderfer is quite good, which manages to bring back my interest after about four minutes of extended self-indulgence. LaBrie's vocals sound hollow and empty, and he doesn't bring anything to the consistently weak lyrics.

The fourth track ("Time Enough") starts out promisingly, with drum rolls and foreboding piano. Petrucci's solo is actually quite good here, a slow, deliberate feel to it - even when he trills, he sounds like he means it. We return to the jungle right away, underneath the first vocals I actually like. D.C. Cooper brings an earnestness to the words, and his delivery is excellent. James Murphy solos on guitar early on, and his tone is unmistakably similar to that of Petrucci's - it caught me on the first time and I had to go back and relisten. The rest of the track is passable, with Trent Gardner picking up the trombone and playing his heart out at one point, and Steve Howe licking at his guitar at another, but the music is, again, just a bunch of solos strung together by complicated vamps. There is no common vibe between the players, no thread of inspiration that runs through the music. The closest it gets to this is in the last few minutes, when the piano is played ferociously, but still the rest of the players don't pick it up and run.

The fifth and final track, "Last Call," sounds very similar at first to earlier themes - the heavy riff and vocal delivery. It fails to deliver yet again, until the very ending - when Petrucci solos to the outro. The vocals at the end are banal at best, but the guitar is at least intriguing.

This album is utterly unsatisfying, and only one member of the "supergroup" manages to perform to his best, and that one member is Terry Bozzio. He saves this album from the garbage bin by playing outstanding, integrated and essential rhythms. The way he attacks those drums makes my arms tired just listening - at every moment that he is playing, there is at least one interesting sound and idea being presented. The skill and grace with which he plays is unmatched by Gardner, Sherinian, Howe, and even Petrucci. The very end of the disc is a particular treat to listen to - in the booklet, it lists that section as "Bozzio Goes Wild." How very appropriate.

This CD is one of the most sad pieces of music I have ever listened to. The talent that is present is clear through the glimpses we get of it occasionally, but never is it used to its full potential. Don't buy this CD. Go out and grab Scenes From A Memory or either Bozzio Levin Stevens disc or Planet X or Relayer or one of a million other, wonderful musical endeavors. This CD is not bad; it's just misguided. And as such, it's far more depressing than any number of "terrible" CDs.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2002 Matthew Turk and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magna Carta Records, and is used for informational purposes only.