Written in 2010 for DPRP
CD 1:Mickey Mouse Man (6:17), Before The Storm/Blueprint (18:18), Circuitry (6:22), Canto IV (Limbo) (15:15), Homegrown (11:05), Systems (7:47), When The Walls Are Down (6:47), Safe In Your Vision (4:37)
CD 2:Crutches (14:04), Wrists (9:21), Carmilla (10:06), Into The Dream (22:08), The Nursery Year (5:27), Diminished (8:29), Between Me And The End (5:38)
In this writer’s humble opinion, Discipline are one of the very best progressive rock bands, period, and in Unfolded Like Staircase they can rightly be said to have recorded a bona fide masterpiece. It’s my favourite album. Ever. Yet they never truly broke like Spock’s Beard, The Flower Kings or other third wave pioneers. Due in no small part to the fact that they only ever released two studio albums (the other being Push And Profit) before disappearing from the scene altogether. Prog in the 1990s required if anything perseverance, and, pre internet explosion, if Discipline could have just kept going as a recording entity they would I’m sure have been right up there with the biggest names in prog. As it is they have a legendary, nay cult status amongst the progniscenti. There was a live album, 1999’s Into The Dream, and a live DVD (Discipline Live 1995) released in 2005, but that, as they say, was that. Hopefully this double compilation of rare and never before released live tracks will expose them to the audience they so richly deserve. They’ve already started playing live again, including 2008’s NEARfest. And I understand a new album is in the works. Happy days.
They are unlike any band you’ve ever (not) heard but touchstones would surely be Van der Graaf Generator, Anekdoten and King Crimson. Matthew Parmenter’s passionate vocal delivery, his tortured lyrics, the sublime guitar work of Jon Preston Bouda, who makes the instrument sing, ample mellotron and the quite audacious use of saxophone marked this band out for me, on first listen, as one of the best I’d ever heard. I played Jonno the live DVD recently and he immediately began a worldwide hunt to try and source a copy. And he knows his prog. He is but one of my prog friends I have prodded and poked, encouraged and exulted to buy Unfolded at merch stands. I should be on a retainer.
Opening with the previously un-released Mickey Mouse Man, from ProgDay ’98, which is on the DVD if you can find a copy, the track was regularly played live but never recorded in the studio. Disc one then has the monumentally epic Before The Storm (from ULS) also from 1998’s Progday gig concluding with the guitar solo from Push And Profit’s Blueprint. Circuitry (which can be found on the DVD), is another lost track, and begins a series of five tracks from Progday ’95, including another ULS track, Canto IV. Next the unreleased Homegrown, with superb Bouda guitar solo, is followed by a rarely played live version of Systems. When The Walls Are Down, which appears on the DVD, concludes the ’95 material for this side and the disc is rounded out by a rare 1996 recording of Safe In Your Vision.
Disc 2 has a storming version of Crutches, perhaps my favourite track from ULS. From Progday 1998 followed by the rarely heard unreleased Wrists, from a small 1997 show, which shows the band’s early Genesis influences. I’d never heard this track before, and it’s wonderful – check out Bouda’s guitar – how can he make one instrument sound so different? That, added to Parmenter’s vocals make your heart break. I’ve not been as blown away on first listening to a newly discovered track since I heard Shades by Echolyn nigh on ten years ago. A version of Push And Profit’s Carmilla from the Orion Studios, Baltimore, Progressive Rock Showcase 1996/1997 leads into the truly epic twenty minute long centrepiece of Unfolded, Into The Dream, a rarely heard performance from 1998’s Progday festival. The lyrically disturbing Nursery Year, from the Push And Profit album also from the Orion showcase segues into Diminished (from Push And Profit), another unreleased track. Orion recording, Between Me And The End (which appeared on Into The Dream) ends the album.
It’s not jolly music by any stretch of the imagination. It’s bleak, in places, if I’m being totally frank. But it is exceptionally powerful, melodic and above all passionate music. Matthew Parmenter combines the theatrics (and, if you watch the DVD, the costume changes) of Gabriel with the tortured angst of Hammill, and wrings every last drop of emotion from his often brutally stark lyrics. And he plays a mean piano, too, coaxing the most beautiful, fragile melodies out of his instrument. And then he pounds the crap out of it. All in service of mood, context, and the emotion of the moment. The single creative vision. And before you think I’ve gone a bit flakey, did I mention he plays the mellotron? He’s released a couple of DPRP recommended albums – 2004’s Astray (not ashtray) and 2008’s Horror Express. Three words. Add. To. Cart.
Musically this band is without equal. Bouda’s guitar swirls and soars, pleads and shrieks. He can make the bloody thing talk. Drummer Paul Dzendzel fair beats the living heck out of his kit, yet when the mood dictates he can gently caress it like a sado-masochistic lover after way too much Mountain Dew.
Bassist Mathew Kennedy was recently seen by UK audiences playing with Phideaux at Summer’s End. Enough said. He’s such a great bass player you don’t at first notice his contribution, a bit like Mike Rutherford I guess but put some decent headphones on and you quickly realise the man is a genius.
This is complicated music. It is complex music with more time and tempo changes than you can shake a stick at. It is all the more impressive that they can play this stuff live. Listening to this makes you remember just why you like prog in the first place. And not boy bands.
Sound quality is very good, given the age of the original tapes, and there’s a ‘warts and all’ aspect to the recordings that you’ve just got to respect. The booklet is nice too, with plenty of rare pics. There are enough unreleased live tracks to make this an essential purchase even for hardcore Discipline fans, who may already have the increasingly rare live album, DVD or seven disc Progday boxset (limited to a thousand copies).
My review, then, can be distilled into a couple of words. Buy this. Or ask Satan to buy it for you for Christmas. And no, that’s not a typo. But then what do I know?
And all I am is a bucketful in a waterfall
And all I am is a raindrop in a bucketful
And all I am is an atom in a molecule