Good things come to those who wait, a statement that usually proves to be especially true when it comes to music. Take for example the progressive metal group Thought Chamber, the brainchild of guitarist Michael Harris (Darkology) which first took form in 2001 with the release of Harris’ solo record Sketches from the Thought Chamber. In the ensuing six years, musicians were gathered, songs were written and recorded, and finally in 2007, Angular Perceptions was released to rave reviews and much critical acclaim. Then we waited, and waited, and waited….
Now, six years later, wait is over, as Thought Chamber unleashes upon the eager masses Psykerion, a sci-fi themed concept album of mammoth proportions. Though Harris and original vocalist Ted Leonard (Enchant, Spock’s Beard,Affector) remained for this one, the rest of the band was overhauled. Taking over on drums is Mike Haid, on bass is Jeff Plant, and taking over the keys is Bill Jenkins (Enchant). Though they all had their own projects and endeavors, it is clear that a good deal of that six years we waited went into Psykerion, for this is not only a well thought out and developed concept album, but it also is a wondrous musical work, drawing from a huge variety of influences to bring an eclectic brand of progressive metal that pairs with the quirky and whimsical science fiction/human drama concept wonderfully. Oh, and they pretty much slay in the performance department here also. All intangibles aside, the old extremities are going to get quite a work out rocking to this one.
Most prog metal concept albums start with a token instrumental, but Thought Chamber isn’t satisfied with just that, they shoot for two. Inceptus and Exodus open up the album, with Inceptus bringing us right into the quirky sci-fi vibe of the album with some absurd time signatures and outlandish tones laid upon a ripper series of rolls and hooks. Exodus moves us more into a proper mode with a tone befitting a space opera, very epic and uplifting. Both tracks serve as excellent mood setters for the album, putting us in just the right frame of mind for something truly out of this world, which begins rightly at track three, Psykerion: The Question, where Ted Leonard finally unleashes that wonderful prog voice of his. And he does, starting with a subtly toned mode before the song really picks up and he just goes off with it. The varied instrumentalist all shine really quickly too, as Harris lays it down with a variety of guitar modes, eclectic bass slides in and out of the music, and Mike Haid really kills it on the drums. In fact, Haid was surely the most pleasant surprise of the album, such a beastly performance beginning to end. In the Arms of Avakus is a transitional number, quiet and reflective in tone, with quiet guitar and soulful vocals. It serves to lead into the next number well, Light Year Time, which is a wonderfully playful song, giving an image of the more romantic side of the science fiction tale, with dreams of space travel and adventures to come. I was quite impressed how they were able to translate this notion through the music. The light yet frantic keynotes and splayed drums coupled with hopefully bright vocals really paint a bright picture. Amidst the song is a brilliant interplay between Harris and Jenkins, the light keys and rich guitar really pairing up nicely.
Kerakryps, the next track, is where things start to get a bit dark. Leonard loses the hopeful tone and digs in for the dramatic. The guitars gain a bit of grit, digging for the more unknown aspects, as the lyrical tone begins to speak of a bit of regret and remorse. The next two tracks are short, set up numbers. Black Hole Lounge, seems to pay homage to the stereotypical spacer bar scene that seems a prerequisite of any sci-fi film. Circuits of O.D.D. is the first sign of something going dreadfully wrong, the song just dripping panic and fear. With the stage set, Thought Chamber is set for the first of the two long tracks, Behind the Eyes of IKK. This song, without being too blunt, is a flat out beast. Everyone puts their talents on high, the genius switches are left in the on position, as they lay into almost nine minutes of prog metal brilliance. This is shown most in the truly unbelievable instrumental section, where only the fiercest of men could possibly keep up with all the “holy shit” moments these guys drop, but even in the midst of this, they never lose the conceptual nature of the album, keeping that retro, b-rate movie tone that is just bled all throughout the album. I truly respect and appreciate the thought and effort that went into this aspect of the album, it really takes the listener out of standard rocking out mode and brings them more into being an actual part of the story.
From here they rifle through four shorter numbers, each with its own personality and touch, though none ever stray from the story as a whole. The first, Isle of Bizen, is an achingly beautiful number, really bringing out the dreamy aspects of the tale. Xirethius II is a flat out psychotically paced and structured instrumental. Two tracks later, they are then off for the second of the long pieces, Transcend, which can be considered the climactic part of the tale. This one is a small story in itself, structured more like a traditional epic, with a clear path followed from beginning to end to transport the listener to the end of the tale. Musically, once again, they go way beyond the standard, bringing in the technical quirkiness that has been the hallmark of the story, and pushing it to the very edge. By the end of it, with the pounding beats coupled with the multi layered vocals, we know we have been through some serious stuff, though it will take much more listening to fully grasp the story. Planet Qwinkle is another absurdly insane instrumental track that leads into the final Inner Peace. Though a short finale, it does a more than adequate job in its part as a closer.
Now, I’ll be dead honest, I’m a total sci-fi buff. Been reading it since I was a kid, seen all the standard movies and TV shows, etcetera. Very few prog rock sci-fi tales have ever really satisfied me, they try to be to strictly futuristic, not letting themselves loose. I think that Thought Chamber did it right, they took a page out of the book that gave us the original Star Wars and Firefly. It has that space cowboy feel to it, playful, fun, and packed full of action. And they nailed that aspect of it perfectly, never taking off the mask to be just mere musicians, but instead going above and beyond to be true storytellers. It’s a wonderful production all around that is packed with brilliant music.