Spock's Beard - Snow

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Metal Blade
Catalog Number: 14406
Format: CD
Total Time: 166:29:00

When in the vinyl age a double album was conceived and released we were talking of around a maximum of two times 40 minutes; that is around 80 minutes of brand new material. In the digital age, however, an album clocks in at around 60 to 70 minutes, which means a double CD offers no fewer than 120 to 140 minutes of brand new material, and that my friends can be a triffle much at times. In the case of the latest Spock's Beard offering we are looking at 114:43 of new material (add to that 51:46 of extra music on the bonus disc for the limited edition) and in a way, one knows that there will be strong but also weaker moments. The digital age plus the fact that a lot of people now own their own studio where they can either record or at least pre-produce their music enables any artist to deliver material without any boundaries whatsoever sometimes resulting in outrageous releases (take the 50 CD Klaus Schulze box as one example!). On top of that lengthy "journey," Snow also comes as a concept album.

Concept albums are as effective to the prog musician as a red towel to a bull. Having been around for a mere seven years it looks like Spock's Beard has this time around created an album that is the balance between the longer Spock's tracks and the more direct, shorter songs from the Neal Morse solo camp. Add to this a much more rock-oriented approach and a second lead vocal courtesy of Nick d'Virgilio, and you get a slightly different Spock's than the one that has climbed the prog ladder so far. Creating a double album also enables you to do things you'd normally never approach on a single album, so to enhance the lyrical content, of course, the music varies quite often. Yet "the Beard" has kind of created a sound of its own over the years, whether it's the distinctive voice of Neal or the powerful tron of Ryo. So although the band delivers a "different" album, it's still very much the Spock's most of you out there love and cherish!

If it were a reggae album they'd call him Yellowman, but as this is a concept album in the domain of prog and beyond, our main character, the slight albino born John Sikeston, will be called SNOW! There's no point in explaining the plot behind this concept album as Neal Morse has done this multiple times in several interviews whilst it is also not my intention to describe every track of this package (36 songs!) but I will try to give a general idea of what to expect. The opening track already fuses two different parts together, being an acoustic section and a powerful, bombastic part with heavy keys, guitars and a wild Nick d'Virgilio. Over the years we have learned to fully appreciate the unique timbre of Neal's voice, its slight harshness adding something extra to the skilled compositions. Take "Stranger In A Strange Land" where his voice is backed by distant strings, acoustic guitars and soft percussion almost sounding like a different band. Recorded at the Lawnmower and Garden Supply studio in Pasadena, California, the soul of the late Kevin Gilbert still filters through as Kevin was also a BIG prog fan and follower, yet he would approach the genre from a different angle fusing the vintage parts with a more contemporary approach in order to deliver music of today rather than a re-print of some seventies highlights. No doubt Gilbert would be very proud of what Spock's delivers here coz' there is pure rock'n roll to be found as well. Just listen to "Long Time Suffering" which is authentic rock'n roll yet daring to incorporate some vocal harmonies. Give the song "Welcome To NYC" to Marilyn Manson and they'd certainly turn it into an even weirder piece of music!

Compared to a lot of the contemporary prog bands, Spock's Beard has this unique gift of composing superb melodies. Take "Open Wide The Flood Gates" which sticks to your mind from the moment you hear it for the very first time! Towards the end it's like you're listening to an unreleased part from Dark Side Of The Moon courtesy of some great backing vocals! I also want to show my respect for the wonderful jazzy guitar solo from Alan Morse here which sounds as if George Benson has been visiting the studio! My absolute favourite on the first disc certainly has to be the incredible "Solitary Soul," not in the least because of the out-of-this-world mellotron section from Ryo and the CSNY-like harmonies. This song really moves me to tears as it is so touching, especially towards the end when real strings set in. This should be a number one the world over and don't say it's way too long to be played on daytime radio because if they could do it for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" they can do it for this song! This is a song they can play at my funeral, but hey please wait a couple of years as I'm not ready yet!

Disc two opens rather furious with a powerful section which could easily be by Liquid Tension Experiment. Spock's continues by putting two strong songs back to back one sung by Neal and the other by Nick which is another advantage the band has when compared to other groups. "Reflection" sees it's melody once again enhanced by means of some lush arrangements by Ryo Okumoto (check out his superb solo album Coming Through). Yet by all means the strongest "pop" song on this album has to be "Carie," which is like a Christopher Cross hit, and looking at the 3:05 format, this is ideal to be issued as a single. There's no serious radio station which should be without this song as this is of the same calibre as Marillion's "Kayleigh," in other words a true "classic"! Then again "Looking For Answers" leans towards Kansas minus the violin and with a touch of Echolyn added for good measure. In "All Is Vanity" Ryo offers us a great synth solo, which in a way holds a medieval feel and can be compared to the work of Nathan Mahl. But then the Beard loses it all during a freaky almost heavy metal version of "Devil's Got My Throat Revisited" which will certainly be an ideal track to be performed live, preferably as the final encore so everyone is left speechless! And you'll be even more amazed once you hear the horns turn "Snow's Night Out" into a funky tune, making sure our Snow has seen all the colors Motown can offer. Although every single Spock's Beard member shines in his own right, it's our keyboard player who gets a special solo spot during "Ladies And Gentlemen, Mister Ryo Okumoto On The Keyboards," almost smashing his keyboards to pieces as the song comes to an end. The strong melody we found in "Solitary Soul" is slightly repeated during "I Will Go," steering the song towards kind of a conclusion. The conclusion of both the story and the music itself can be found in the final song, which is made up of "Made Alive Again" and "Wind At My Back" starting in acoustic fashion with Neal, guitar and piano and evolving into an "all systems go" outro putting a full stop behind an impressive concept album. Then the music comes back as if the band finds it difficult to accept it's all over.

But hey, it's not over for us as we have the limited edition to review which means we put disc three in our player and press the play button for the third time. And for this disc I will review everything in detail as few reviewers have taken this 3CD set as their main "ingredient." The disc opens with a cover of Yes's "Southside Of The Sky" from their Fragile album. Heavy bass all the way as well as an omni-present Ryo and percussive highlights from Nick. A large part of the song is presented in vocal harmonies before the band attacks the Yes arrangement in a very aggressive way. The combination of "The Good Don't Last" from their The Kindness Of Strangers album together with "Open Wide The Flood Gates" sounds like a warm up during the recording session. During "The Good Don't Last" they introduce the main theme from Mannix on acoustic guitar whilst Nick backs it all up on percussion. The interesting thing is that the lyrics for "Open Wide The Flood Gates" are different to the ones we can now find on Snow, so you're listening to a "draft" version of the song. In fact, a lot of the bonus tracks on this 3rd disc are recordings of "works in progress" on the Snow album, so if you record every single note during the recording process you can one day or another offer more material to your fans than they can find on the legitimate release! There's a funny disco segment in their rehearsal for "Devil's Got My Throat."

During the acoustic version of "Looking For Answers" Nick d'Virgilio proves what a great singer he is, delivering a very mature and powerful unplugged version of this wonderful song. Yet at the same time this song also proves why a lot of people find it difficult to call Spock's Beard a progressive rock band because this song is a pure pop song and doesn't hold any of the prog trademarks at all. The demo for "Looking For Answers" had Neal still looking for the right lyrics as a lot of the singing is filled with "la la la's" and "doo doo doo's" yet it gives a clear indication as to which direction Morse wants to take. The advantage for the rest of the band is that Neal's demos pretty much include all the ingredients he wants to hear in the final recording. What is described here as "4 O'clock" is just a couple of seconds of Neal talking whilst mentioning it is indeed 4 o'clock (yet we don't know whether it's afternoon or morning). Then whilst Ryo's solo spot on the finished album only lasts for a mere 2:40, the rehearsal included here takes us as far as 7:42 including more than one take incorporating the change-over to "I Will Go." From an audio point of view this is not so interesting yet I can imagine it might be fun to experience this on DVD. The "Lost Bass Solo Demo" offers a really powerful section which, although rather short, illustrates the power of Dave Meros. What follows is a rather funny acoustic version of "The Light" with Neal rather talking than singing whilst Nick is playing the bongos. The bonus disc closes with a working section of "I Will Go" with Neal giving some directions as to what the end result should sound like. Apart from "Southside Of The Sky" this bonus disc looks like it could be the first in a series of 150 different ones as by including snippets of rehearsals a band can release unlimited albums. However looking at the retail price of this package, if you're into buying this album then go for the 3CD box even when the only time you'll get the bonus disc out of it's box will be to listen to "Southside Of The Sky" and then return it to its cardboard sleeve.

Some people have compared Snow with The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, others with The Who's Tommy whilst some people go as far as SF Sorrow by The Pretty Things. Whatever way you look at it Snow is being compared with some of the most important releases in the history of rock'n roll! Yet Spock's Beard have come to a point in their career where they have to chose which direction to take next. Just like the character on the sleeve of Snow who scratches his bald head when he stands in front of two entrances, it's like Neal Morse has to decide to either fully concentrate on the band or his solo career or if he has to chose between the ongoing Spock's Beard atmosphere or his current found love for Christianity. Whatever direction he choses, I'm sure there will be an enthusiastic crowd waiting for him at the end of the tunnel! Yet in the meantime we are all left with one major question : will Spock's Beard attempt to perform all of Snow live in its entirety or will this be too ambitious to undertake?

Limited edition also includes 'Snow' the story leaflet plus three stickers featuring the sleeves of Day For Night, V and Snow

Released also by Radiant Records, and in Europe by InsideOut (IOMCD 100/IOMLTDCD 100)

Disc 1: Made Alive Overture (5:32) / Stranger In A Strange Land (4:29) / Long Time Suffering (6:04) / Welcome To NYC (3:33) / Love Beyond Words (3:24) / The 39th Street Blues (I'm Sick) (4:06) / Devil's Got My Throat (7:17) / Open Wide The Flood Gates (6:14) / Open The Gates Part 2 (3:03) / Solitary Soul (7:34) / Wind At My Back (5:12)

Disc 2: Second Overture (3:47) / 4th Of July (3:11) / I'm The Guy (4:48) / Reflection (2:49) / Carie (3:05) / Looking For Answers (5:16) / Freak Boy (2:12) / All Is Vanity (4:36) / I'm Dying (5:09) / Freak Boy Part 2 (3:01) / Devil's Got My Throat Revisited (1:55) / Snow's Night Out (2:05) / Ladies And Gentlemen, Mister Ryo Okumoto On The Keyboards (2:40) / I Will Go (5:09) / Made Alive/Wind At My Back (8:28)

Disc Three: Southside Of The Sky (9:11) / Good Don't Last/Open Wide The Flood Gates (Live Acoustic) (11:26) / Working On "Devil"/Fiddly/Disco (4:41) / Looking For Answers (Live Acoustic) (4:59) / Stranger In A Strange Land Demo (2:34) / 4 O'clock (0:24) / Working on Ryo's solo (7:42) / Lost Bass Solo Demo (2:01) / The Light (Live Acoustic) (6:08) / Working on "I Will Go" (2:10)

Neal Morse - lead vocals, piano, all synth, acoustic guitar
Ryo Okumoto -hammond and mellotron
Dave Meros - bass, vocals, French horn
Alan Morse - electric guitars, vocals
Nick D'Virgilio - drums, percussion, vocals


Chris Carmichael - violin, viola, cello
Jim Hoke - saxophone, clarinet, autoharp
Neil Rosengarten - flugelhorn, trumpet
Molly Pasutti - background vocals

The Light (1991)
Beware of Darkness (1995)
The Beard Is Out There Live (1995)
Official Live Bootleg (1996)
The Kindness of Strangers (1997)
From The Vault - 1995-1998 (1998)
Day For Night (1999)
Live At The Whiskey and NEARfest (1999)
Don't Try This At Home (2000)
V (2000)
Snow (2002)
Feel Euphoria (2003)
The Light - The Artwork Collector's Series (2004)
Octane (2005)
Gluttons For Punishment (2005)
Spock's Beard (2006)
Live (2008)
X (2010)
Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep (2013)
The Oblivion Particle (2015)
Noise Floor (2018)

The Beard Is Out There Live (VID) (1995)
Spock's Beard's Home Movie (VID) (1998)
Live At The Whisky (VID) (1999)
Making Of V (VID) (2001)
Don't Try This At Home & The Making Of V (DVD) (2002)
The Making Of Snow (DVD) (2004)
Live (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: September 29th 2002
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

Artist website: www.spocksbeard.com
Hits: 642
Language: english


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