This review is proudly brought to you by our sponsor, Valhalla Biotech.
Valhalla Biotech and You: A Singular Relationship.
Whilst 3rdegree may have passed under the radar for a few of you, then thankfully things started to change for them three years or so back with the release of their 4th album, The Long Division. The band was formed by Robert James Pashman back in the 90s (remember them?) and they released the excellent Human Interest Story in 1996. I had bought their 2008 album Narrow-Caster based on a review by Ron Faulkner, who gave the album a resounding 9 out of 10, drawing parallels with the work of echolyn and Izz. Ron had this to say: “Try to imagine a grown-up 10cc, with the pop and quirky elements dialed down a good few notches, and with a hybrid of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Roger Taylor (of Queen fame) on vocals, and you’re part-way to imagining the sound of this band. Sprinkle in some funk and soul, and a little late night smoky blues bar, and you’re getting even closer”. New record Ones & Zeros vol.1 maintains of course that funky, bluesy vibe courtesy of the amazing George Dobbs’ vocals, but adds a whole other layer of progressive rock goodness courtesy of, amongst other things, the bona-fide epics and my ‘Track of the Year’ contenders The Gravity and the Life suite (Life, Life At Any Cost and More Life).
As far as I can tell the new album (available only digitally on the 10T site at the moment until the official release date on August 18th) is garnering universal praise on the interweb. And having listened to not much else for the past month or so I can see why. Much has been made of it as a ‘concept’ album but before you run off thinking of wizards and floating mountains all that means is that it is a record that demands to be played all the way through, in the order that the artists intended. None of this shuffle nonsense. I played quite a few tracks on the AmericanProg radio show over on progzilla.com and excellent as the songs are, in hindsight I feel that something was lost in terms of the flow and the overall ‘feel’ of the material. There are some superb narrative segues interspersed throughout, charting the all-encompassing and insidious reach of Valhalla Biotech in the dystopian, cyber-future posited by the album’s overarching concept. In fact I think that this has got some of the smartest lyrics you’ll ever hear but what will ensure it vies for attention come the year-end cavalcade of ‘Album of the Year’ lists is the combination with the music that ties it all together. I spoke with Pat Kliesch a while back and he gave me a little insight into the track We Regret To Inform You – he and I both love the album Gangs by And So I Watch You From Afar (it was he who recommended it to me in fact) and he advised that the song almost started out as an homage to their style. It subsequrently morphed, however, with lots of extra layers and spoken VO. Such is the musical petri-dish the band delves into. Now as much as I loved The Long Division – and I did after all rate it 9/10, when I reviewed it for a website back in the day – with this album I think that 3rdegree have released a genre-defining piece of work. Up there with some of the seminal American progressive rock releases of this or any other decade. And there’s a second part coming too. Which according to guitarist Pat Kliesch should be out late next year and which includes an epic 15-20 minute long piece to end the album. Starting with the production (which is full, rich and hugely rounded), the song writing, the concept, the lyrics and the playing I find this so much more fulfilling. Which is saying a lot, given how good TLD was and which has me salivating for 2016’s vol.2
If the overtly political message of TLD was perhaps lost on you then the message of Ones & Zeros vol.1 will be much more accessible and I venture that you will be hard-pressed to listen to a better record all year. It is masterfully melodic, symphonic in places but angular and more urgent when it needs to be. There are no show-off solos but check out the keyboards and guitar in Circuit Court. Musically the sound is all 3rdegree but if you held a gun to my head I’d say that you can hear First-Wave of Prog things on the album that will quite easily appeal immensely if you are a fan of Rush, Genesis and King Crimson. Be in no doubt though that this is a 21st Century progressive rock album. The best bands don’t sound like anyone else but respectfully pay homage here and there. So it is with 3rdegree. The standout track for me is More Life but I prefer to think of it as Part 3 of the Life Suite. As I’ve touched on already George Dobbs’ voice is wonderfully evocative but when combined with the harmonic backing vocals and string arrangements it’s an incredibly cinematic piece, and a crowd-pleaser when they play it live to be sure. The opening becomes the close. The end is the beginning.
I definitely think that it is an album to be listened to on headphones. Get the highest quality download you can, or better still the CD and with the right kit you’ll be amazed at the sonic quality. Whatever format you listen to it on, though, you’ll be blown away. Not one filler track ensures it is one of the most ‘complete’ albums you will have in your collection. The CD package is pretty cool, too. With art by Aleksandr V. Kouznetsov. Eric did the design and layout.
Fans are going to get a chance to see them in the States and in Europe soon and I strongly urge you to try and get along to a show. I’ll see you at Leicester and Summer’s End. I may or may not be wearing a hat.
September 12, 2015 Bestbar New York, NY (w/John Galgano, Yellow Box, PiXPRNC, Anton Roolaart)
September 20, 2015 ‘t Blok Nieuwerkerk A/D IJssel NETHERLANDS
September 24, 2015 das Rind Rüsselsheim, GERMANY (w/Neo Prophet)
Sep 26 Le Baroc Paris FRANCE
September 27, 2015 The Talking Heads Southampton, UNITED KINGDOM (w/Credo & Introitus)
September 29, 2015 The Musician Leicester, UNITED KINGDOM (w/Credo & Introitus)
September 30, 2015 The Bedford London, UNITED KINGDOM (w/Credo & Introitus)
October 3, 2015 Summer’s End Festival Chepstow, Wales, UK (w/Pallas & others)
October 17, 2015 Orion Sound Studios Baltimore, MD
October 24, 2015 XO Lounge Philadelphia, PA (w/Orpheus Nine & TBA)
October 24, 2015 The Gagliarchives NJ (live radio appearance)
- Hello, World! (0:15)
- The Gravity (7:50)
- This Is the Future (4:28)
- Life (2:38)
- The Best & Brightest (4:05)
- Circuit Court (5:10)
- Life at Any Cost (7:58)
- What It Means to Be Human (5:30)
- We Regret to Inform You (5:22)
- More Life (5:33)
George Dobbs – lead vocals, keyboards, percussion
Robert James Pashman – bass, keyboards, backing vocals
Patrick Kliesch – electric guitars, acoustic 6-string guitars, backing vocals, synth
Eric Pseja – electric guitars, 12-string acoustic guitars, backing vocals, voice of Valhalla Customer Service Agent (1, 3, 9)
Aaron Nobel – drums, percussion
Bryan Zeigler – electric guitars, backing vocals
Record label: 10T – http://10trecords.com/store/3rdegree-ones-zeros-vol-1/