Album Reviews: Octane by Spock's BeardSpock's Beard, a mainstay of the '90s progressive rock revival, was written off by many after leader Neal Morse left to pursue a solo career. Following the Genesis model, drummer Nick D'Virgilio took to the microphone, and with the assistance of longtime band friend John Boegehold, the group carried on as a four-piece. But these are by no means wayward sons.
Octane, the Beard's second post-Neal Morse release, sounds nothing like a group recovering from a personnel change. From the album's opening Mellotron intro through the closing riffs of "As Long As We Ride," Octane is an exciting trip that is at times classic Spock's Beard, and at other times sees the group taking roads not previously traveled.
The vehicle for this loosely conceptual album is an Acura, hit by a flatbed truck in the first track. Octane's diverse songs explore the thoughts of the driver as he reflects on his past and possible future while his car spins wildly out of control.
On some tracks, Octane contains the classical orchestration, melodic hooks, and powerful prog grooves that will please the band's longtime fans. D'Virgilio's vocals sound confident and strong, and keyboardist Ryo Okumoto fills the space he used to share with Neal Morse chockfull of wonderfully nostalgic organ and Mellotron.
The remaining cuts provide for a fun game of "name that influence," where the group seems to tip their hat to The Eagles (track 2), Enchant (track 4), Tommy Shaw/Styx (track 9), Jethro Tull and Savatage (track 10), Extreme (11), and (buckle up for this one) Extreme plays Foghat (track 12). The snootiest of proggies might take offense at the commercial influences on Octane, but Spock's Beard has always leaned toward the accessible.
Prog fans should also know about The Tsunami Project, a benefit CD featuring tracks from current Spock's Beard members, Neal Morse, and other notable progressive musicians. - Chris Allen
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