Reviews

the pearl

Sea of Tranquility

 

Has it really been 12 years since the last studio album from San Francisco's prog-rock veterans Metaphor? Surprisingly, that is indeed the case, and another example of just how quickly time seems to be flying by lately. Last we left off with this band was 2007's The Sparrow, a fine set of modern prog with a healthy nod to vintage Genesis, and they are back yet again in fine form here with The Pearl, which was recorded in 2018 and released in January of 2019.

 

 As we've had a few months with this one, much of this music has had a chance to really sink in, and it's another really good release from the band. Musically, not much has changed over the years, the band continuing to produce some masterful arrangements dripping with majestic keyboards, crisp guitar work, and intricate rhythms, which you can clearly hear on the opening cut "The Open Road". Marc Spooner blends piano with synths on this gem to wonderful results, Malcolm Smith's guitar going from gentle to snarling, and the acrobatic rhythms from bassist Jim Anderson & drummer Greg Miller doing a fine job. Anderson really shines on "Bruises and Blisters", his thick yet melodic bass lines permeating the entire track, swirling around Smith's tasty guitars and Spooner's grandiose keys. John Mabry's vocals will continue to be a 'love it or leave it' thing for some; personally, I think his style fits the music, and though he doesn't have a wide range, he does a good job of telling the lyrical story, and his mid-to-upper range delivery works well on some of the heavier tracks, such as "Lying Down with Dogs".

 

"The Mist of Forgetting" has elements of Saga as well as late '70s Genesis, with haunting synths floating about the mix as metallic guitars stab in and out of the arrangement, while "The Love Letter", the longest track at just under 10-minutes, is the albums most pastoral, atmospheric track, leathery bass lines & pedals seeping through a haze of synths and Mellotron, with Mabry soaring over the top. "Remembering" has elements of folk to go along with some tasty lead guitar and piano, but the tempo picks up with "Romancing the Wurm", a song with a healthy Yes flavor to it, blistering synths, heavier guitars and those ever present velvety bass grooves from Anderson providing some bombast. After the brief folky number "The Eagle, The Voice, The Light", the band close out the album with the symphonic "Robed in Glory", another atmospheric number complete with haunting keyboards, massive bass lines, and textured guitar work. Again, a strong Yes influence happening on this one.

 

Though I'll admit to being a huge fan of Metaphor's early 'homage to Genesis' albums, it's great to hear them branching out a bit here and letting some other styles and sounds creep into their music. This is a pretty wonderful collection of modern prog rock songs with a healthy nod to the classics, chock full of great instrumental passages and melodic vocals. Hopefully it's not quite so long till the next time we are graced with new music from the band, but this one was well worth the wait.

 

Pete Pardo

 

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The Progressive Aspect

 

Metaphor is a San Francisco area progressive rock band that used to be a Genesis cover band during the mid-1990s. The fact that they covered Genesis, created an immediate interest and desire to listen to, and then review their latest album, The Pearl, released in January 2019. The Pearl is full of innovative music and experimental keyboards that will make any Genesis fan imagine Tony Banks out front.

 

The band’s previous releases include Entertaining Thanatos (2004), Starfooted (2006) and The Sparrow (2007, and now in 2019 the band return with an excellent concept album full of great lyrics, a thoughtful story, and an interesting journey.

 

First impressions include how closely the voice of John Mabry resembles Bay area legend Marty Balin, of the Jefferson Airplane. The vocal impressions are so close that I can definitely imagine Mabry covering several bands with his range. Phil Collins would be easy, but I would like to hear him cover some Gabriel-era Genesis.

 

Next up, the dynamic keyboards of Marc Spooner, a keyboard wizard with each successive track providing innovative yet familiar sounds. As a keyboard fan, his work on this album is worth the price of admission alone. You can hear so much of Tony Banks in many of these tracks, but also Keith Emerson, and Martin Orford, formerly of IQ.

 

The bass of Jim Anderson is out front and staged perfectly to provide powerful rhythm throughout this album. You can hear his presence and direction on many of the tracks, but especially The Mist of Forgetting, and opener The Open Road. On The Mist of Forgetting you can even hear some close resemblances to Chris Squire’s style.

 

Malcolm Smith’s guitar–work is innovative, with some hints of Steve Hackett, but I hear more impressions from IQ’s Mike Holmes or even a Chris Squire/Steve Howe mix. Anyway, it is wonderful.

 

Greg Miller, on drums, is not as strong a presence as, say, Phil Collins, but you can definitely hear him lay out the beat. The band’s music is softer and more attuned to keyboard or guitar beats than heavy drums. However, Miller is essential and keeps good pace during songs like The Love Letter and Robed In Glory.

 

Every track on this album is so wonderfully different. It must be incredibly difficult to maintain uniqueness in a genre like prog, where so much experimentation has preceded your arrival. But Metaphor remain impossible to pigeonhole. Their sound is their own and there is no direct comparison I can make. That uniqueness made this album such a fantastic find, unlike anything I have heard in the last 10 years. Completely of its own and a new discovery I think you will enjoy hearing.

 

On the beginning of Romancing The Wurm you can hear a little of what sounds like some of the opening of Styx’s Light Up, before the band dive into one of the deepest bass rumbles, that in turn sets the pace for one of the best keyboard and drum extravaganzas on the album. Elsewhere the flute work on The Eagle, The Voice And The Light will take you back to early Genesis. Robed In Glory, the epic closer, is full of over the top musicianship, with a closing that even includes the sounds of pipe organ, bringing a powerful climax to the album.

 

One of the most unique albums and sounds I have heard in years. Get this album for the band’s spectacular and innovative spirit and stay to listen to the story told with brilliant musicianship and vocals that enhance the band’s extraordinary talent.

 

Professor Mark

 

 

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Expose

 

It’s been at least ten years since Metaphor’s last album, The Sparrow, so the band certainly can’t be accused of flooding the market with product. Even with the passage of all that time, the band membership is still the same five guys. In the interim guitarist Malcolm Smith released a solo album (which we reviewed here), and keyboardist Marc Spooner released electronic adaptations of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, while the other three members of Metaphor (singer John Mabry, drummer Greg Miller, and bassist Jim Anderson) are members of the Bay Area band Mind Furniture, who have a third album about to be released, so these guys have been busy. Metaphor is and always has been a classic prog band, with the challenging endeavor of covering the songs of Gabriel era Genesis in their early formative years, but since their first CD, Starfooted in 2006, their music has been 100% original, although the influences have remained to this day.

 

On the earlier albums it was a little more evident, surely Gentle Giant and Yes, and of course Genesis, but their compositions don’t sound at all like their influences, only (occasionally) the playing and vocal delivery, and with this latest album one can even hear some Rush influence on the nine-minute opener “The Open Road.” Metaphor’s ace up their sleeve is singer John Mabry’s lyrics, which (although I can’t follow them all – printed lyrics would have been helpful) are interesting and seem to my ears to be somewhat spiritual in a Moody Blues sort of way; with “The Eagle, the Voice, the Light,” the band takes a gentler turn for its three minute duration and the lyrics are crystal clear underscoring that aspect.

 

Another standout among the nine tracks is the seven minute “Remembering,” which combines some twisted threads and frequent wholesale changes in a truly classic progressive way, but it’s a well written song beginning to end and the vocals and harmonies are nothing short of superb. Like many classic prog albums, it’s a big magnificent closing track that makes the listener remember long after the music has stopped, and here we have exactly that with the closer “Robed in Glory,” an unfogettable majestic pocession of ideas executed to perfection, with more great lyrics that seem to have a lot to say at every turn.

 

Beginning to end, The Pearl is an outstanding album, and probably most would agree Metaphor’s best to date.

 

Peter Thelen

 

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Progressive Rock Files

 

Rating: Brilliant! Everything a Symphonic Prog Album Should be.

 

I’m so happy to present the new, fourth studio release from San Francisco’s Metaphor, a band I’ve been following since their first release way back in 2000! Entitled The Pearl, this new release, like their previous ones is thematic and I guess you could say conceptual as it lyrically tells a tale drenched in Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Not that it’s that overt, but that is the story line. Clocking in at sixty-one minutes we’re treated to nine compositions most of which are anywhere from six to nine minutes.

 

Stylistically this is classic Symphonic Prog with its inspirational roots going back to early Genesis, al-be-it performed with a certain contemporary flair. You will definitely recognize the prog tropes; long instrumental introductions, many shifts in time and tempo, and different musical segments all stitched together to create a complex patchwork of musical ideas. This is music that is somewhat more intricate both in terms of composition and musical performance. While Metaphor are adept at reaching the sweet melodic heights you can also expect to hear plenty of minor, diminished and augmented chord-play giving their music a wonderful “yin and yang” quality. These are compositions full of musical twists and turns, where things can stop on a dime and head off in other directions and yet all of it hangs together through complex melodic patterns and instrumental themes. If I had to pin down a sonic reference point for you this is music that has much in common with the likes of Discipline and Glass Hammer.

 

To my ears, Metaphor just keeps getting better and better at what they do. The Pearl hit’s all the right Prog notes for me. There are many bands creating music that they’re trying to shoe-horn into the Prog genre but for my money this is the real deal. Highly recommended.

 

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Progwereld

 

For me there is an important distinction between American prog rock and European prog rock in general.

 

The American version is, in my opinion, mainly based on technology (the more difficult the more complex), powerhouse (the more power, the more solid) and preferably over the top (the farther the ... well you get it). The European prog scene wants to follow American music but still prefers to stick to its own basis in warmth (the more the finer), melody (the more recognizable the more familiar) and structure (the more adventurous the ... well, you can do this yourself - fill in!).

 

The American band Metaphor from San Jose, California, does not adhere to my geographical logic. In no song are their American roots reflected on their fourth album. It is more European than the Europeans, and we are mainly talking about the British prog greats (especially the one that starts with a very big G) that provide a source of inspiration and sound spectrum. Metaphor’s music is played out of their love for classical progressive rock and not for monetary gain, just like the band did on their previous albums.

 

The spirit of Genesis lurks like a warm mist through all layers on this album too. The bass (pedals) and the use of the keyboard arsenal from the '70s albums like "The Lamb Lies Down On Broaadway" and "A Trick Of The Tail" are prominently served up to the indulging listener.

 

Immediately in the first song it is a Steve Hackett guitar style solo that warms our hearts. I also hear IQ in The Mist Of Forgetting with Peter Holmes guitar licks, a Camel intro on Lying Down With Dogs and there are several short trips here and there to Yes, Gentle Giant, and VDGG giving it an intelligent touch.

 

In Lying Down With Dogs, The Flower Kings also come and have a look around. After all, they also know where to get the mustard. Continent companions such as Mystery can be heard in The Love Letter and returning to The Mist Of Forgetting, where there is also an accessible Mike And The Mechanics-like singing part between different Yes breaks. So what more could the listener want?

 

And yet, it is a pity that Metaphor cannot give its own face on this album. Perhaps it is the one-dimensional singing voice that can now be heard in every song. Because unfortunately, this time there are no instrumental resting points that break this spell. The fact is that originality is preferred over the urge to innovate and own insights, and we have to deal with that.

 

This album does not reach the level of others such as The Flower Kings who, with Deaf, Numb And Blind for example, give their own Genesis interpretation on "Flower Power" but all in all this album can be called a pretty little gem. If only because the American Metaphor dares to dodge their own flattened prog paths and canyons and to cherish and honor the greats of the golden 1970s with their songs. Then it is no problem to have to wait twelve years for the continuation of their own "The Sparrow" let alone a forty year old "Wind & Wuthering".

 

Jos Driessen

 

 

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Highlands Magazine

 

The Californian band METAPHOR, under the aegis of guitarist-composer Malcolm SMITH, begins its twenty-first year of existence, its first album STARFOOTED having been published in 1999. It took five years to hear in 2004, ENTERTAINING THANATOS. Three more years to enjoy the third acclaimed opus of the band: THE SPARROW, in 2007. After a long period of silence, it was the turn of Malcolm SMITH, the eminence grise of METAPHOR, to publish his first solo album, WE WERE HERE, in 2014.

 

Then, the fourth Metaphor album entitled THE PEARL appeared in the last days of 2018.

 

If THE SPARROW in 2007 set the bar high, this new album continues the artistic and musical progress of the American group. Jim ANDERSON, bass; Greg MILLER, drums; Marc SPOONER, keyboards; Malcolm SMITH, guitar and John MABRY, singing constitute this talented quintet.

 

The music of METAPHOR can be considered from two angles: first of all, in terms of sound, its dynamic is well anchored in contemporary progressive creations. On the other hand, their inspiration draws its sources in the creative 70s, taking again the principal elements: numerous breaks and unusual rhythmic signatures, evoking in particular the approach of a GENESIS or a GENTLE GIANT, a great care in the vocal melodies, and ambitious, unpredictable compositions, highlighting the technical skills of the various instrumentalists - always working in the service of overall music, not individual spotlights.

 

When it comes to the symphonic approach to music, we sometimes have to think about CAMEL or YES. From a rhythmic point of view, the music multiplies the signatures. From an instrumental point of view, keyboards put analog sounds in the limelight with Minimoog enveloping the melodies by prolonging them instrumentally. The guitars know how to be slightly biting while conveying an ineffable and constant voluptuousness, inherent to the music.

 

The Open Road (8'43) starts with an energetic guitar pulse, a flying chorus of air, carried by layers of keyboards distilling a subtle symphonic elegance. We hear briefly some beautiful acoustic arpeggios before the composition expounds a new theme. Malcolm SMITH's electric guitar precedes the arrival of John MABRY's smooth, velvety vocals mixed in the same plane as a particularly dense instrumental ensemble in which all the instruments tend to blend. The rhythmic jolts of the bass and drums constitute a precious base for the arabesques of the electric guitar with clear accents, supported by beautiful piano arpeggios by Marc SPOONER. The song resurfaces, vaporous, airy, in the absence of rhythm section, where the very sweet scent electric guitar seemingly in weightlessness.

 

Bruises And Blisters (5'52) starts with an acrobatic guitar figure on an odd rhythm, with a jerky tempo. The Hammond organ wraps around John MABRY's vocal melody. The bass and drums always evoke YES and GENTLE GIANT, the transparent guitar of Malcolm SMITH offering the fluidity of Andy LATIMER's technique. We’re engaged by singing which seduces, the bass providing a well-cut pulse, infusing an exciting rhythm. The very present keyboards accompany with lightness, and the diaphanous electric guitar of Malcolm SMITH is heard periodically.

 

Lying Down With Dogs (6'15) continues on an up tempo, with vigorous Minimoog accompanying. John MABRY's committed singing is very present, the rhythm section stimulating multiple changing tempos, with complex, unpredictable time signatures. The guitar game of Malcolm SMITH intervenes more rhythmically on this title. A dense composition, full of life and fire.

 

The Mist of Forgetting (7'03) - taken on a relatively slow tempo, this composition contrasts with the previous ones. The keyboards are very enveloping, the guitar of Malcolm SMITH distilling an almost vaporous chorus. The bass of Jim ANDERSON, very present, embellishes, underlining the intervention of various keyboards, including marimba and piano. The harmonic richness is intense, tangible, and complex, giving all the progressive cachet to the composition, wrapped in a very dense instrumental frame. We salute the atypical music of METAPHOR's constant inspiration, carried by admirable atmospheric keyboards, incessant changes of rhythm, a constant dialogue between a melodic bass playing and a labyrinthine chorus guitar by Malcolm SMITH.

                                                                                                                                                                         

The Love Letter (9'31) is illuminated by arpeggios of guitar and bucolic piano, on a slow/medium tempo. The song is slightly incantatory, the electric guitar always very lyrical, favoring the high end of the range. Floating keyboards by Marc SPOONER accompany. Acoustic guitar arpeggios arise for a very soft rendering before the rhythm accelerates, carried by a bass infusing its melodic score and a metronomic battery. Malcolm SMITH's guitar distills a series of floating chords in the background. Continuing on the fabric of high-flying keyboards, this composition is linked to subtle rhythmic leitmotifs. The acoustic piano arises, accompanying the nuanced voice of John MABRY, with decked out acoustic arpeggios of the guitar of Malcolm SMITH. Very beautiful harmonies are emerging, the instruments interlocking into each other, the keyboards are crystal clear, the solo guitar, evanescent.

 

Remembering (7'20) - aetheric keyboards suspend in the opening, syncopated bass follows, preceding feverish Hammond organ and synthesizers, rhythm section syncopation, and singing. The bass and the drums are present in the foreground, then the lead is taken on other instruments, keyboards being very present with an enchanting Mellotron. Instrumental richness and inventiveness are constant, in a permanent flow and a register that is both sweet and dazzling.

 

The Eagle, The Voice, The Light (3'03) - arpeggios on acoustic guitar open this title favoring beautiful harmonies. The bass, and soft, enveloping keyboards, are up front.

 

Robed in Glory (7'30) - the introduction reflects a certain urgency in the guitars, enhanced by floating keyboards. The tempo subsides, everything seems in suspension, then the keyboards and the organ begin to decorate, the superb bass, cuts in, accompanied by beautiful keyboards before the royal stage entry of the elegant electric guitar of Malcolm SMITH, for a set of magical sounds. The majestic piano and the radiant keyboards sound to their advantage. The finale, in apotheosis puts in the foreground the radiant guitar of Malcolm SMITH, haloed by the evanescent keyboards of Marc SPOONER.

 

It's hard to demand better from this exceptional group. Pure class!

© 2018 by Metaphor

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