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THOUGHT CHAMBER: PSYKERION

(INSIDE OUT MUSIC; 2013)

Thought Chamber album

Guitarist Michael Harris and vocalist Ted Leonard (of Spock’s Beard, Enchant and Affector fame) are big-brain, virtuoso musicians. Leonard and Harris asked other big-brain, virtuoso musicians (Mike Haid, who has played with David Chastain and with Harris on his solo projects; Bill Jenkins, Leonard’s bandmate in Enchant; Jeff Plant, session musician extraordinaire) to join them for this, their second album under the Thought Chamber banner. The album, PSYKERION, is what happens when big-brain, virtuoso musicians get together. A word of advice: I suggest you don protective gear before entering into this piece of sonic sci-fi bliss. This just may be the single most enjoyable piece of progressive rock to come along in the past year!

Though Chamber (publicity photo)
Though Chamber (publicity photo)

Obviously, in a genre steeped in legendary performances and performers, there are going to be comparisons. Likewise, studying the pedigrees of the players here, we cannot help but compare Thought Chamber to their other projects – especially Spock’s Beard. Those comparisons come fast and furious from the first few seconds of the first track but, they are only comparisons, as this music is utterly unique to this group of musicians. The first thing you’ll notice, as with all great prog rock bands and concept albums, the songs seem to meld into each other (in fact, of the 16 tracks on PSYKERION, only one is a stand-alone piece). The first three tracks are kinda like the overture, introducing themes and concepts that will repeat throughout the record. “Inceptus” sounds like a more progressive Deep Purple, with definite similarities to Ritchie Blackmore’s fleet-fingered fretboard work, as well as Jon Lord’s keyboard mastery. Flipping a coin, so to speak, it’s also rather reminiscent of a heavier Kansas or UK, with its jazzier elements and powerful Terry Bozzio like drumming. The track morphs into “Exodus,” a moody interlude with beefy power chords, lightning-quick soloing and the odd computer “blip.” Ted Leonard makes his first vocal appearance on “Psykerion: The Question.” His voice is what you’d expect – smooth and confident, with a definite touch of Steve Walsh. Harris offers up some cool Zappa-like guitar runs, while an acoustic rhythm part cuts through occasionally. “In the Words of Avakus,” a gentle, Steve Howe type of guitar piece with beautiful keyboard washes and strings, serves as an intro to “Light Year Time,” which turns into full-on Yes overload. The vocal melody and overall vibe is closer to something off the woefully overlooked DRAMA album, with Leonard’s vocals coming off as a cross between Trevor Horn (Yes vocalist during the DRAMA period), Jon Anderson (THE… ) and the schlock-meister general of pomp rock, Dennis DeYoung. Mike Haid’s percussion on the piece is an interesting Bill Bruford style jazz workout, while Haid’s rhythm section co-hort Jeff Plant lays down an equally intriguing bass line. Even though Bill Jenkins drops a few unfortunate DeYoung-like synth farts, the song is still a strong rocker. The single “stand-alone” tune, “Kerakryps,” starts as a funky kinda “Doctor Feelgood” thing before kicking into a jazzy workout, bordering on Emerson, Lake and Palmer style bombast. A closer listen reveals a dollop of Rush influence, as well. A very interesting piece, indeed.

Thought Chamber (uncredited photo)
Thought Chamber (uncredited photo)

The Black Hole Lounge” is a kind of fusion thing, sounding a lot like something that you’d here from Joe Zawinul’s Weather Report if George Benson were playing guitar. It works as the intro to “Circuits of ODD,” a continuation of the fusion feel, but heavier. Haid’s powerful drumming certainly adds to the cool feel of this one. “Behind the Eyes of Ikk” is a big time metal beat down, kicking off the next triptych. It’s like a heavier “Children of the Sun,” with an awesome piano-driven break before a guitar versus keyboard stand off (shoot out?). Harris doesn’t pull any punches on this tune. Another gentle Yes type song, of the Howe/Anderson variety, “Isle of Bizen,” features yet another blistering Harris solo and Plant doing his best (and that’s pretty darn good!) Jaco Pastorius imitation. The final piece of the medley, the instrumental “Xyrethius II” has a title that would suggest a Rush vibe. It really reminds me of a keyboard driven something that Gregg Giuffria might have produced with one of his mid-’80s-early-’90s groups (Giuffria and House of Lords). Much like the very best Dream Theater, “Recoil” is almost suffocatingly heavy and leads into “Breath of Life,” which finds us returning to the Kansas comparisons, with a solid organ riff and slightly religious/metaphysical overtones. Those overtones continue with “Transcend.” There’s more Steve Howe comparisons, though maybe from his Asia work, while Plant ups his Jaco imitation to a solid Chris Squire sound. There are two separate break-downs, the first is jazzy and a little bit funky; the second is heavy and more progressive sounding. From “Transcend,” we move to “Planet Qwinkle,” which sounds like Keith Emerson and Robert Fripp dueling for supremacy in the Prog Rock Olympics, as Jenkins and Harris push each other to ever greater heights. Leonard brings another Steve Walsh-worthy performance on the album closer, “Inner Peace.” Jeff Plant finishes strong with a great, upfront bass performance.

Now, I know that I may get grief for the continual comparisons to other groups but, when you’re working with five decades of great music, it is really hard not to find those similarities. That in no way diminishes the talents of the five gentlemen of Thought Chamber and the powerful performances found on PSYKERION, which may, in fact, be the best progressive records in the past year.