Progressive Rock by
Progressive Ears (USA) / Rockline (Slovenia)
After a long break, the American progressive band Metaphor decided to make a comeback in 2004. After the amazing Starfooted, which some people call a cult classic, the expectations were high. A lot of the times, nothing good comes out of this. I have seen so many groups, who have created one excellent effort, only to follow it up with a very average one. Judging by how much I love Starfooted, I was a bit doubtful myself if Metaphor could deliver the goods yet again.
When I listened to the album for the first time, I was severely disappointed. Where were all the magical melodies that delighted me on Starfooted? Where was the fluidity and the enchantment? But as it happens so many times with great albums, the more times I listened to it, the more I began to discover that there's a lot more to it. Metaphor really know how to engage the listener into paying close attention. I discovered that not only does every piece have a bunch of great twists, but the melodies were also present in abundance, they are merely different than what I was used to from Metaphor. I probably thought the more avant-garde approach strange at first (similar to Gentle Giant in many ways), but later I realized that this is one of the key factors to keep the listeners on their toes.
Already the first composition shows that this isn't the same Metaphor as on Starfooted. True, the line-up and instruments are almost identical, but the sound is very different. The avant-garde element is more pronounced, the melodies aren't as free-flowing. If I had judged this album solely on the basis on the first listen and on the first track, I wouldn't rate it very highly. However, the following tracks just keep raising the standard. I think “Socrates” may not be the best start for the album musically, as I consider it the weakest piece here, yet lyrically it's the right beginning, dealing with the afterlife. At first I didn't like the track at all, later it really grew on me. I still consider it to be the worst track on Entertaining Thanatos, but that just speaks about the quality of the overall product.
“Galatea” displays that familiar side of Metaphor. The music is much more melodic and fluid, yet still playful enough. The lyrics are again hugely important. In this story, an artist (Pygmalion) makes a statue of a perfect woman. He is interested only in the physical aspect and not the mental. Aphrodite is very cross at this, so she decides to give the statue life. The artist is thrilled to see his creation come to life, like it did to Frankenstein. His exultation is short-lived though, as the »perfect« woman kicks him in the groin.
“When It All Comes Together” is about the period when there are no wars in the world and Death has to wait for new victims. Here, we can again bear witness to the same magical moments as on Starfooted. Some high-quality melodies, instrumental segments and avant-garde tempo changes make this short song seem much longer. I don't mean that it's boring; it's merely structurally as versatile as many much longer pieces.
“Raking The Bones” is based on the fifteenth chapter of the Finnish epic poem Kalevala. A mother finds her son dead and wishes to bring him back to life at all cost. She tells the bee to bring her nectar, so that its energy might restore the son's life. The mother puts the nectar on the son and slowly he regains consciousness. When he wakes up, he tells her he was in a beautiful place and that his rest was peaceful. Although he is back, he is never really alive; his thoughts are always far away.
The next track is probably the wackiest one in the band's history. It's based on only one avant-garde melody and lyrics full of dark humour. Some gentleman is trying to explain that he is not boring at all and as proof you can take a look at the collection of human bones in his backyard.
“Yes and No” is a new epic piece. The lyrics are concerned with the question whether it is just to commit murder in the name of religion. The protagonist tries to figure out, in an interior monologue with Krishna, whether killing people means to actually save them. Krishna convinces him that physical death is not the end. This is yet another great showcase of John Mabry's great sense of sarcasm and criticism directed at religious fanatics. Musically, “Yes And No” is a real treat. The avant-garde ideas are fewer than before and the last part is based on a melody by Gustav Holst. I consider this to be the best piece on the album and I think that in terms of quality it is right alongside the works on Starfooted.
The last song is again about life after death and features several emotional segments. At the end, the saxophone joins in for the second time and brings this record to a beautiful conclusion.
It's clear from the start that the melodies aren't as pleasant as on Starfooted. However, I see this as a positive thing. They didn't want to repeat themselves. I personally wouldn't have minded if they had created another Starfooted, but such projects are usually recipes for disaster. If they attempted to recreate the atmosphere, the sound and the melodic value of the debut, things could have gone awry very soon. At the end of the day I feel it's still better to create something fresh and new, even though you risk losing the listeners who were impressed with the debut.
The music on Entertaining Thanatos is quite original. On Starfooted the Genesis influence is very dominant, but here they really stand on their own two feet here. There are still plenty of Genesis tricks (the soft mellotron, the wailing guitar,...), yet they are not as obvious any more. It's interesting that they sometimes also sound like Van Der Graaf Generator, especially when the saxophone is used (“Raking The Bones”) and more than once like Gentle Giant (during the wackier parts and the choral singing). Still, if I were to claim that Metaphor merely combine their styles, I would be doing them a great disservice. They have heaps of their own ideas about sound and structure, as well, so that at no moment does it seem as if anything was ripped off from another artist.
The singer, John Mabry, again displays his talent for writing both challenging and fun lyrics. For me, he is one of the best lyricists in the modern symphonic/neo style. He often tackles religious themes, but unlike someone like Neal Morse, Mabry knows how to be critical and have fun at the subject as well. Some of his lines can be very insightful, while at the next moment he'll come up with a really intelligent and humorous pun. His voice may not be to everyone's liking (I for one really like it). It may be helpful if I say that it reminds me of Ray Weston's from Echolyn. At first I thought that his lyrics weren't all that compatible with the music, as if he were trying to put too much information into too short a space. Later on I realized that it was probably a conscious attempt at a more avant-garde compositional style (in the lyrics department as well). The guitarist again uses a very similar style to Hackett's during the solos. I don't really mind that, as I consider Hackett to be one of the most pleasant sounding guitarists about. This album features a new bassist, who proves his worth with some fancy bass lines. Spooner is again typically restrained and refined, yet still glorious in a minimalistic sense. He is the epitome of good taste, just like Banks was in the 70s with Genesis. This time round, Metaphor use two drummers. While Bob Koehler was officially no longer a member, he still plays on two numbers, while the others are played by the competent replacement Jeffrey Baker.
Entertaining Thanatos shows that Metaphor still lives and breaths and that they no longer have to live in the shadow of Starfooted. They deserve all the credit for not repeating themselves and still being able to put out an album that, similarly to Starfooted, ensnares you with its charms. The melodies aren't constantly as wonderful as on the debut, but an album like that doesn't come along just any day. This is a different offering that brings me a different kind of satisfaction and while I prefer Starfooted, I still consider Entertaining Thanatos to be a more than worthy follow up. This is very much recommended.
Generally the band sticks quite well to its musical style on their second effort, nevertheless it sounds much different from the first one and they can’t be “accused” anymore by anyone for being a Genesis clone in my opinion since they are showing a quite unique and own style.
The main difference to their debut is that it’s much more complex and less accessible. It’s not the kind of album which will fascinate right from the first or second listening and it might need several spins until one gets familiar with the bizarre structure of the songs and odd lyrics (partly as dialogues). But just due to these features the album should be a real goodie for any proghead.
The longest track “Yes & No” is (at least for me) together with the first one "Socrates" one of the more accessible ones in relation to the others. The alteration between more melodic and harmonic parts and more odd-timed ones is just great and the more often I listen to it the more I love it. The lyrics of the album alone which are dealing with the topic “death” are worthwhile for a further investigations. For example the rather funny and entertaining story told in Galatea 3.3 about the Pygmalion carving a Venus sculpture to praise his goddess until she’s awakening to live to give him a kick in his most precious parts. Thereafter he’s lamenting in latin language: „Testiculi mihi tantopere dolent!“. ----Lines like “But his heart was far away” in “Raking The Bones” which is telling the story about a mother raking the bones of her dead son to reconstruct him---- the weird “Call Me Old and Unspired…” or the philosophical „When it all comes together“ which is about single elements of daily live fitting to each other very rarely for a few moments.
Like in the music the mood is shifting so fast and actually during reading the lyrics you never can premonite whether you should think hard about something or just laugh. The weakest point of the album (if it has any) is maybe the vocals of John Mabry, although being a great song-writer his voice fails at some points to follow the complex song structures. Although giving it a rather high rating (because I think it deserves it) I would recommend this album only to hardcore Retro-Prog fans but anyone who liked the first one should not regret the acquisition of this one as well. Moreover it might be a potential rarity in future times.
For sure one should invest a considerable amount of time for listening “Entertaining Thanatos”, then it can be a real entertainment. Not only for its uniqueness and strangeness I’m giving it 4 stars.
Movimenti Prog.net (Italy)
Epic, fantastic, surreal, enchanting are the first adjectives that spring into mind when listening to Methaphor’s second musical achievement.
Perfectly in line with the ideology of “symphonic rock”, the band from San Francisco has again adopted the formula of concept album as in their first album, Starfooted, 2000, which consisted in a free and rather original re-elaboration of of some of the major themes of Christianity. In this second work sources of inspiration are Socrates, in the opening song entitled “Socrates”, based on a theme by Gustav Holst, the myth of Pygmalion and Aphrodite in “Galatea 3.3”, an abstract from the Finnish epic poem Kalevala in “Raking the Bones” and the characters of Arjuna and Krishna in the startling suite “Yes and No” which also goes back to the theme of Holst, the composer of the famous suite for orchestra The Planets and the Choral Hymns from the Rig-Veda, influenced by Hindu misticism. The most interesting song is definitely the grotesque and mysterious “Call Me Old and Uninspired or Even Lazy and Tired...”.
We are dealing with a complex piece of work, hard to grasp fully and rich in cultural references, its greatest asset being its fluidity and lightness, strategically seasoned by a pinch of irony. Ten years of experience have contributed to shape up the style of the band, which started off as a cover band of the Genesis and gradually worked its way towards a better defined style, refined, elegant, substantial rather than formal, far from excesses and unnecessary virtuosities. Recognizable models are, again, Genesis, as well as Gentle Giant, Kansas and Yes, devoid of any elaborate showing off. At the moment, the band from California is working at the creation of a new concept album based on a short story by the author Mary Doria Russell.
Four years after their debut ("Starfooted" which was previously reviewed on these pages), I really didn't know what to expect from this new effort by Californian prog-rockers Metaphor. But when I began listening to their new CD Entertaining Thanatos, I couldn't avoid playing it again, three times in a row.
The rise in quality made by these musicians is honestly clear and thrilling. Starting as a Genesis cover band (with the legendary ad made by Malcolm Smith in a San Francisco newspaper which said: "Hackett seeks Banks, Rutherford, Gabriel, Collins. Object: Supper's Ready"), Metaphor knew, through the years and while maintaining their passion intact, how to free themselves from those beginnings and reaching their own, original sound, which on one hand could remind some of the prog classics of the past (in this respect it's essential to mention Marillion and Gentle Giant) and on the other hand shows that their compositions are created coherently, and are refined and personal.
The opener "Socrates" already features hit melodies and touching instrumental sophisms: simply wonderful is the work at 6-strings guitar by Smith with his dreamy and moving solos. What can I say then about "When It All Comes Together," a soft and delicate dirge (with Canterbury influences) led by John Mabry’s singing, or about the acrobatic rhythms in "Raking the Bones," exalting the bassist Jim Anderson.
And then when the CD takes a turn into the suite, (almost twenty minutes long) "Yes and No," my worries melt like snow under the sun. Metaphor are incredibly inspired and condense all their skill in the service of this exciting track, close to the masterpieces of Marillion ("Misplaced Childhood") and Genesis ("A Trick of the Tail"), but also comparable to the recent works by Dream Theater.
The closing piece on the album relies upon the crescendo of "Wheel of the World" which begins with a jazzy attitude and then lightens up with the sad narration by the singer, and further on by the sax intervention. A great finalé for a really successful album from the first to the last note, and admirably arranged.
We have talked about an underground production, but how much is felt, how much inspired passion there is in this whole concept album (please take a look at the booklet!). Emotional, modern, finely intellectual in style; an example of how progressive rock should play in the year 2004. Get it!
(Translation courtesy of Paolo Frascolla, Eventyr Records)
Rotters Club (Italy)
After the success and acclaim by critics and audience of the their first CD, titled Starfooted, here are Metaphor once again, an American San Francisco Bay area band, which started their career as a Genesis tribute outfit.
These skillful and flexible musicians have created this new work evoking a traditional, romantic, and symphonic prog, which certainly turns the listener towards new experiences in search of unexpected melodies.
The band is involved in creating an interesting progressive music influenced by Genesis (particularly the guitar parts by the great musician and composer Malcolm Smith), by Gentle Giant, Yes, Camel; in any case, the result is surely original and pleasant: many rhythmic changes are featured throughout the entire listening of this CD, sub-titled "Seven Cheery Songs About Death."
It starts with "Socrates," a mix of the European symphonic rock sounds with the typical American style, and "Galatea," closer to Peter Hammill vocals and featuring touching melodies as well as wonderful instrumental parts; on the whole, evoking in us a dreaming and moving feeling.
It follows with a Canterbury-influenced delicate dirge titled "When It All Comes Together" and the complex "Raking the Bones" whose rhythm section and John Mabry’s singing, remind us of Echolyn. Introduced with a long title, "Call Me Old And Uninspired...", also hints at Echolyn and becomes the prologue to the long suite "Yes and No," a song which givesus almost eighteen minutes at the very top level of quality. Skillful instrumental parts and beautiful vocals make this an exciting track full of hints reminding us of Marillion and Gentle Giant, but also refined and involved, showing the wish of the band to explore new territories.
The last track is really remarkable, "Wheel of the World" with its jazz-oriented flavor and the sax part making precious the John Mabry narration.
(Translation courtesy of Paolo Frascolla, Eventyr Records)
Highlands Magazine (France)
Jean- Pierre Schricke
This is the second album from this band based in San Francisco and which, interestingly, has a more European side to it than one might expect. Their first CD Starfooted was released in early 2000, and is certainly one of the best prog rock CDs released that year. Even if theirs might look to an old musical recipe from the 70s, their music still offers something new on the horizon. Maybe it’s simply the dexterity of the musicians that push them to follow the heritage of the good old days, which we of course think of in terms of Genesis. Maybe it’s also that many in prog rock ranks frequently talk about the old style of “real progressive music” – in any case, this group has great potential.
The first thing that hits you is of course the sharp yet supple guitar playing of Malcolm Smith, who offers a sound that has both the sustain and feeling of Steve Hackett. The changing voice of singer John Mabry shows also that he is without limits in the variety and timbre of his voice. Marc Spooner plays a panoply of keyboards, even putting before us the sound of the old-time mellotron. It seems that Metaphor does not currently have a ‘reguluar’ drummer, as there are two “guest drummers” on this CD. Jim Anderson shines with his solid bass work, and really blends perfectly while holding down the bottom.
The seven magnificent compositions on this CD are certainly the collective accomplishment of each member bringing their own influence and initiative. Socrates is certainly the most direct, perfect song to start the CD, evoking very deep philosophical and historical thoughts. Each section is ornate and complicated with a variety of rhythms, creating a veritable “Musical Box.”
Galatea, another pearl, features John Mabry who’s authentic and deeply moving vocal offers a perfect harmony with the music. His voice is very comfortable in both the high and low registers. Raking the Bones is a title that is led by strange, tragic voices that come out of the shadows and live in a climate of anxiety; an excellent song, with a refrain in the style of Gentle Giant.
Metaphor, without doubt, knows its classics and most importantly combines that with their knowledge of today’s modern progressive rock tastes. The music moves us deeply, reaching us to our very core.
Then we come to the center-ring spectacular, the very long Yes and No, at 18 minutes, starting on a very soft arpeggio reminiscent of Anthony Phillips’ 12 string guitar. This song, with it’s mellotron playing, is dramatic, full of eloquence, with a supreme balance between acoustic and electric, and between the enchanting and uneasy, accomplished also through the interesting angular guitar, and Mabry’s variety of vocal styles that really gives the listener chills.
Keyboard player Marc Spooner has a very deep knowledge of his instrument, and uses a great variety of sounds. He is one that most likely studied music, and has great command of his instruments, with near-faultless playing.
Each song develops with an opera-like lyric that is continually moving around in different directions. Wonderful job! Same for the rhythm.
Entertaining Thanatos is simply a grand achievement, evidenced by its undeniable originality, even somewhat within the realm of the well-known prog rock recipe, of which this group has a total command. Metaphor has just given birth to a “Foxtrot” and in that respect, therefore, don’t think that you’ll get everything out of it on the first listening. Rather, each song brings you a new pleasure with each listening.
Rating: four stars out of five
Translation courtesy of Crystel Tuifua
Progressive Rock/Metal Internet Zine (Brazil)
After the 2000 release of their widely acclaimed debut album entitled “Starfooted,” Metaphor now return with their eagerly-awaited second album. And, as things strangely happen many times to me, I must say this great North American Progressive Rock band have just come into my life via their second effort, whose title is “Entertaining Thanatos,” so I’m still unfamiliar with their first effort until such time as it finally gets to my ears. In the meanwhile I’m surely eagerly awaiting that opportunity, which I hope will be soon!
Well, let me lead off with a brief story about this great band and its very beginning. Metaphor began at first as a Genesis cover band far back in the last decade, where they undoubtedly became experts in the craft of performing the music of “classic” Genesis, from the so-called Gabriel Era. After accomplishing two successful performances, the boys decided to drop the Genesis material and follow their own way through their self-composed pieces. In 1997 they finally hit their ideal line-up, began regular rehearsals, and finally recorded the band’s debut that resulted in their triumph “Starfooted.”
Now, four years later, their second effort is out – ‘Entertaining Thanatos” - which is the subject of this review. The album consists of eight symphonic tracks, all of them quite top-notch, and very well-built harmonically too. The CD contains plenty of great surprises throughout, including the stunning performance of John Mabry’s vocals, showing an exuberant versatility in interpreting some hugely intricate themes.
Overall the band is certainly made up of talented musicians, each of them really conscious of his responsibility in performing such complex music. All the instruments are beautifully played, in fact it’s difficult for me to point out any highlight of one over the other. It appears that all the band members make a great effort to carefully play along with each other, without overwhelming one another, forming in fact a real progressive rock band. And for a band that once was covering Genesis songs, their members are clever at retaining in their music a vivid memory of that past source of inspiration. Such a memory, which is strongly found in most of Metaphor’s music, is actually quite welcome, particularly when taken as a rescue of some elements of a style that was left behind long ago by its progenitor, Genesis, who of course had countless moments of glory over their brilliant career, but one day succumbed to pop music appeal.
In Metaphor’’ music, they are acknowledging the legend, and retaining that peerless story to be told y the generations of progressive rock fans to come. Therefore, listening to “Entertaining Thanatos” is far more than a pleasure, it is quite a privilege, seeing that this progressive rock story is full of life and fortunately still far from coming to an end.
So, don’t let anybody fool you by saying that Metaphor is just one more clone of Genesis. I may even say that the sound of the band is halfway between the past and present of progressive music, with some of the songs strongly visible as being genuine Neo-Prog music, evoking something like ?Arena? and also "Grey Lady Down" at times. It’s worth checking out this magnificent album!
The line-up of Metaphor consists of the following musicians: Jim Anderson - Bass & Other Low Frequencies, John Mabry - Lead Vocals & Acoustic Guitar, Marc Spooner - Keyboards & Backing Vocal, Malcolm Smith - Electric Guitars, Flute, Synthesizers and Backing Vocal, and Jeff Baker - Drums as a guest musician. “Entertaining Thanatos” is highly recommended!
Space Rock (UK)
Stuart aka Zeitgeist
31 May 2004
The follow up to their first CD, "Starfooted", Metaphor have returned with an invigorating blast of great progressive rock.
One of the first things that you notice is the attention to words. Too many prog bands spent so much time on the music that when it comes to lyrics, it's all faeries and fantasy, but a large round of applause to John Mabry, for making the stories fascinating.
For the scholars amongst you, Thanatos was the Greek god of Death. Not Hades. You heard me. Hades was the King of the Dead, but Thanatos was your actual god of Death. Which means we're spending a fair amount of time dealing with myths and legends here. So far, so prog. However, the concept here is much simpler than most. For this is an album about death. Whether it's through questioning Socrates about his final moments with a cup of hemlock in hand, right through to the closing "Wheel Of The World", when it all ends for all of us, or an interrogation of Krishna in "Yes & No".
Musically, it harks back to the glory days of Van Der Graaf Generator (1st incarnation and especially on "Galatea 3.3"), with hints of Gentle Giant and a dose of Emerson, Lake & Palmer for good measure. The performances are flawless especially on the epic "Yes and No", which is 17:49 of musical nirvana.
An absolute delight, and an essential acquisition.
Four-and-a-half stars out of five.
Published on: 17 Feb 2004
There is much more about Metaphor than what Meets The Ear!
The challenge that I am proposing myself with this review is to try and explain the “why” that hides behind my opening statement. And so I’ll exercise a bit while asking for the readers permission and understanding to bare my thoughts and dissertations about Entertaining Thanatos.
Not wanting to enter the realms of “anatomize” the musical content yet, I’ll focus my first lines on the thing that amazes me the most about this US based band: The lyrical side of the band. While most progressive bands base their core on the musical side of the things, while lyrically telling stories which can be sci-fi, fantastic or mundane, that is not the path this band has chosen. If with their debut Starfooted the band focused their mindset upon the mechanisms of Creation, the reason of things and the mysteries of life, with Entertaining Thanatos the band goes even further, exploring the greatest mystery of life, that being…Death! Using metaphors, mythology, history characters or simply personal views, the band theorizes, questions and wonders about the ultimate step we will all take. The brilliancy of the lyrics (with their highest point in the closing Wheel of the world) and the way the vocal work has been set to represent each view, character or mind state the band wants to present or transmit at each moment, is thoughtfully done to detail. The listener is driven to feel the lyrics, more than the music itself .
OK, so musically this album is also challenging. Just like their first release, Entertaining Thanatos needs several listens before one can start to successfully absorb its deambulations and rambles. If both guitar and keyboard work is what sets the melodically friendly parts, those same instruments suddenly become fecund in unpredictability. The keyboards often draw slightly dissonant patterns and the guitar gets higher pitches, collecting and imprisoning wrathful feelings. The most obvious Genesis connections (so well recognized in their first album) are almost completely gone (except for some keyboard lines very reminiscent of something from Lamb Lies Down…), substituted by a broader and more inventive array of compositional tricks. This is most obvious throughout the first 4 tracks. Track 5 for instance (yes, the one with the enormous name) sounds like a small interlude in the album continuous structure. Here the band experiences some Gentle Giantish approaches, in a twisting surprise that enriches the album. The opus track Yes & No is the one that comes closer to the sonic voyages of the first album. Nonetheless it also continues to strive in widening the musical scope where the band moves.
Entertaining Thanatos is an experimental album. It confines itself within the shell of contemporary symphonic prog while combining long term (70’s) leanings, but still re-invents itself in a provocative and refreshing way.
This is a very good album that is set to be heard, read and felt through and not at all a mere listening exercise. This way, and only this way, you’ll get to the real purpose, understand it….and you’ll feel better about “taking your chance on the wheel of the world.”
Expose Magazine (USA)
The easy thing for Metaphor to do would have been to try and pull off a repeat of their very successful debut Starfooted. But true to its title, this second effort is an effort to bury much of the early Genesis soundalike thing and emerge with something fresh and new. It’s not a complete burial, but the band is marching forward evolutionary, and in the process developing their own sound – one that remains true to the spirit of progressive rock while not being overtly derivative; a healthy move that will ensure their success in the future.
New members Jeff Baker and Jim Anderson (drums and bass) join keyboardist Marc Spooner and guitarist Malcolm Smith. Singer and lyricist John Mabry, a man of many voices, offers a focal point, yet doesn’t dominate; his voice ranges from expressive and emotional, in a Peter Hammill sort of way, to near comedic and irreverent on “Call Me Old and Uninspired …”. For their part, the four instrumentalists keep the sound busy and involved, with many changes and nexpected mood and tempo shifts as they wind through labyrinthine passages that comprise each larger composition. The palette ranges from pastoral and delicate to heavy and bombastic, in true symphonic fashion, but eschews any hint of metal-isms. The side-long opus “Yes and No” winds through many sections and changes, and even integrates a familiar theme from Holst’s The Planets at one point.
Metaphor is growing and evolving, and this sophomore effort has much to recommend.
Audion Magazine (UK)
Entertaining Thanatos (subtitled as seven cheery songs about death ) is Metaphor's second album of self-produced songs. Some minor changes to the band's line up has not really affected the feeling the style leans slightly towards the classic Genesis, and Gentle Giant from the 70's and IQ, Leviathan and Spock's Beard influences from the 90's. However, Metaphor have managed to argument an intelligent, if at times lyrically heavy songs which provide a pleasing and challenging listen for symphonic art-rock fans.
I was immediately taken by the splendidly titled "Call Me Old And Uninspired Or Maybe Even Lazy And Tired But Thirteen Heads In The Same Backyard Says Your Wrong" a bizarre satirical ditty. Of course there are magical musical interludes with Spooner's Mellotron licks and Smith's Hackett-inspired guitar leads flowing through "Galatea 3.3", a song concerning the relationship between Pygmalion and Aphrodite. At times the eccentric nature of this song harkens back to the heyday of Gentle Giant.
"When it All Comes Together" is a shorter, complex piece, with hints of Lamb-period Genesis. Lead singer Mabry demonstrates a versatile and flexible vocal capacity, and puts it to good use, especially when portraying all the characters on The epic track "Yes and No" which is dramatised by masses of Mellotron, synthesisers, and harmonious guitar passes which are overwhelming.
The CD ends with the melodiously dark and moody "Wheel of the World", a song that paradoxically deals with the recognition of life as it comes, regardless of the ups and downs that may occur.
Overall Metaphor with their second CD have continued to stamp their presence for the 21st progressive-conceptually-minded connoisseur!
La Corte Final (Mexico)
Metaphor is a San Francisco based band, which undoubtedly has a clear idea about where to go and the means to get there. Their first work, Starfooted, was a great debut which received excellent reviews and in which you could hear impressive and promising ideas. This second delivery must catapult them to the levels of great American contemporary prog bands such as Echolyn, Discipline, or Spocks Beard, although Metaphor's sound does not seek to emulate those bands, their sound or direction, but to make its own history.
In fact, when listening to the CD, one realizes Metaphor did go to the highest prog University, picking up great teachers such as Genesis, Peter Hammill, or Gentle Giant, to propose a musical idea of their own. Given such as the case, I think it's valid to have an influence of those who play or played the music one enjoyed so much, which is quite different than copying the structures of any of those groups. Metaphor respects the old school but refreshes it in a very original way, full of imagination.
The CD is comprised of “seven cheery songs about death,” - a controversial and complicated theme. But please don't imagine something sinister or macabre; this is simply a theme with great potential which can offer excellent results, and that is the case here.
Within this theme, the musical material unquestionably embarks on a crescendo, beginning with a pair of very good songs which step-by-step trap us inside the concept and the musical adventure until reaching the fantastic epic 'Yes and No' which is nearly18 minutes of a musical banquet with complex musical structures and vocal arrangements that are quite well resolved.
Another very nice thing about the CD is that regardless of the fact that each member is a great musician none of them seeks to be on top of anybody else or roll over a musical passage with eternal or corny solos. Instead, the musical mood is excellent, with everything in its proper place and time. Nevertheless, it's fair to mention the absolute feeling of guitar player Malcolm Smith and the fantastic voice of John Marby, which amazingly adapts to each song's mood, being either soft and beautiful as Steve Hogarth, or dense and expressionist as master Peter Hammill, with a lot of voice variations in between.
In the whole, this is a fantastic record that must achieve high grades. I recommend you learn more about the band.
Music in Belgium (Belgium)
This is the second album from the progressive rock band Metaphor, which hails from the San Francisco area. Their first fine release was called ‘Starfooted.’ The concept and sub-title of their current release is “7 cheery songs about death.” Not a subject you’re enthused about, you say? Well, this album is filled with discoveries, which are more than interesting and satisfying.
In the music of Metaphor you’ll find references to Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, the older Genesis, and perhaps Spock’s Beard. Certain parts of the album will more remind one of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
The first track is about the philosopher Socrates and his disciples. The next song, “Galatea 3.3,” offers comparison to Van der Graaf Generator and Peter Hamill, while the later song “When It All Comes Together” is more linked to the old Genesis sound, through that band’s Gabriel period. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not derivative. The voice of singer John Mabry has it’s own unique quality - one listen to “Raking the Bones” and you’ll realize this yourself.
Of note is that the shortest song on the CD (3:31) has the longest title – “Call Me Old and Uninspired Maybe Even Lazy and Tired but Thirteen Heads in the Backyard Says You're Wrong" – surely a record breaking title, no? The masterpiece of the CD is without doubt “Yes and No.” This is an 18 minute opus, a pearl that brings together and synthesizes all of Metaphor’s musical influences. In this song, they are showing us all the facets of their musical universe, and this universe is indeed delightful. Sometimes the rhythmic aspects are prominent, other times the piece is bathed in very beautiful melodies. The arrangements are particularly well worked out and developed, and you will not be bored even one second, despite the song’s length. The final song, “Wheel of the World” brings to mind Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, yet includes some tonality ranging to jazz. The comparison to Peter Hamill is also noticeable, while the washes of keyboards are again more Genesis-like.
This album should delight fans of Van de Graaf Generator and Peter Hamill, and for a more modern reference, perhaps it is compared to Spock’s Beard and Illuvatar.
Translation courtesy of Crystel Tuifua
Progression Magazine (USA)
Five years since its debut album Starfooted, Metaphor returns from the “dead” with a fanciful lyrical rumination on … death! Subtitled Seven Cheery Songs About Death, this album is quite solid musically – melodically song-oriented, with the occasional blast of dissonance. Comparisons can readily be drawn to Van der Graaf Generator, Genesis, American neo-proggers such as Izz and Spock’s Beard, plus the likes of Echolyn and Discipline.
The real weight here is carried, however, by the lyrical content and by extension, John Mabry’s strong vocal delivery. If you aren’t used to focusing attention on the “words” accompanying your progressive rock, Entertaining Thanatos challenges immediately to sit down and read that lyric booklet while absorbing the tunes. Chances are you won’t get much out of this otherwise – background listening, this ain’t. Metaphorically, mythologically, even a touch historically, death’s eternal mystery meanders obtusely through these seven pieces. The great philosopher is summoned in “Socrates”; Aphrodite and Pygmalion show up on “Galatea 3.3”; Krishna pops up on “Yes & No.”
Interesting stuff, You bet!
It’s a difficult task to entertain Death! This American group, in its second studio recording, deals with that subject without the use of dark and pessimistic musical themes. This extravagant album is a collection of stories, some short and some long, dealing with Death as interpreted and analyzed from different angles and points of view, going from Socrates to Hinduism to the Finnish ‘Kalevala.’ The attitude is not at all snobbish, but instead knowledgeable and intelligent - and not without a bit of irony.
Going to the musical content of the album, we have to say right away that the group, as you probably know, started its career as Genesis tribute band. Their deep affection for that style can be fully felt and, here and there, you can find more or less evident examples of it. However, their reinterpreted music of Genesis is not done in a “neo-prog” manner; you don’t hear the overt lyrical and symphonic aspects – the ones that have been universally more used. We can say that the reference point could be "Nursery Cryme," with its grotesque tales, rather than "Selling England. You can definitely feel an American attitude that makes the compositions full of movement and details with a final result that is really singular. The production sound is rather dry and the instrumental lines are not used to fill empty spaces; for this reason the shape of the songs enjoys some very essential lines.
There are also some bizarre solutions, like Gentle Giant that are, while present, nevertheless used rarely. The singing is rather expressive, even if there is a prevailing theatrical attitude to free the voice in melancholic arias. There is not doubt that the band is gifted with magnetism and personality, even if not all the compositions are fully focused (sometimes you have the impression that they never get to the point). But I can substantially conclude that Death, represented on the cover of the CD in a rather goliardic way, can be satisfactorily entertained by the show.
Sea of Tranquility (USA)
It's been a few years since San Francisco's Metaphor released their debut album Starfooted back in the late 1990's, but the band is back with another platter of melodic and symphonic prog rock. Similarities to vintage Genesis, Marillion, IQ, and even Spock's Beard pop up a bit on Entertaining Thanatos, but overall the bands intelligent, lyric heavy songs provide for a pleasing yet challenging listen for symphonic rock lovers.
Lead singer and chief lyricist John Mabry has a real good voice, kind of like a cross between Neal Morse and Phil Collins, and puts it to good use on the classic prog sounds of "Socrates." While it's a little hard to decifer the meaning behind the lyrics of this one, other than comparing what life was like back when Socarates was alive to modern day California living, the music is filled with lots of vintage keyboard sounds and the arrangements work quite well. Bursts of Mellotron, synths, and Hackett-inspired guitar leads flow through "Galatea 3.3", a song about the relationship between Pygmalion and Aphrodite, and at times the quirky nature of this song will remind you a bit of Gentle Giant. "When it All Comes Together" is a shorter, complex piece, with hints of Lamb- era Genesis, and "Raking the Bones" , adapted from Chapter 15 of the Finnish epic Kalevala, contains some emotional vocals from Mabry, tasty guitar work from Malcolm Smith, and energetic synth & piano passages courtesy of Marc Spooner.
After the short progressive fusion rocker "Call Me Old and Uninspired" (check out the hot bass work of Jim Anderson) comes the CD's certerpiece, the epic near 18-minute "Yes and No." Kind of like a mini-rock opera, this tune will appeal to fans of early Spock's Beard as well as Gabriel-era Genesis. Mabry gives his all, as he portrays all the characters here while the rest of the band lay down some dramatic and symphonic soundscapes. Lots of Mellotron, synths, and melodic guitar lines flying around on this one! The CD ends with the musically dark and moody "Wheel of the World", a song that ironically deals with the acceptance of life as it comes, regardless of the positives and negatives that may happen. It's a pretty uplifting song lyrically, centering on the beauty of life and its adventures, and a message that some people should listen to. It just might have made more sense to have the arrangements a bit more upbeat to match the lyrical content.
For a modern prog recording that pays homage to the greats of yesterday but still has roots in the present, you can't go wrong with this new release from Metaphor. While some may find the lyrics a bit demanding at times, the music and vocals are quite good, and the production values top notch. Recommended! Four stars (out of five)
Harmonie Magazine (France)
The history of this American group starts with a semi-joke, an advertisement placed by the guitarist Malcolm Smith, modeled after that which Steve Hackett had placed in Melody Maker magazine in 1971 and which resulted in his meeting and joining Genesis. Smith’s ad said: "Hackett seeks Banks, Rutherford, Gabriel, Collins. Object: Supper's Ready." Metaphor, one must conclude, was thus formed on a resumption of the style of the "old man" Genesis. Metaphor’s first album (which came out in 2000), carried the mark of Genesis to a somewhat extravagant point.
Their new CD ‘Entertaining Thanatos’ shows an unquestionable evolution, surprising enough in an American context. Metaphor has deliberately located itself in the vein of "the seventies" having developed a somewhat softer sound, smooth and deprived of aggressiveness. That initial influence on Metaphor is certainly far from having disappeared: guitar arpeggios, keyboard arpeggios, evocative harmonies, baroque humor ... but that influence has been more fully digested, and the Americans, in the best moments of the album, seem to prolong the glorious musical speech of their elders.
It is particularly true on ‘Socrates’ and ‘Raking the Bones’ (the latter of which also appears on the triple Kalevala album from Finland), which are two complex pieces, articulate, elegant, and full of feeling, reminding one of Nightwinds or Crucible – the band even approaches Peter Hammill on the track ‘When It All Comes Together.’ Sometimes on the remainder of the album, Metaphor lets itself embark on breaks and syncopated passages that may to a degree undermine the otherwise firm compositions. This is why, probably, the group appears sometimes to hold back a little. The vocal melodies, also, could still gain from additional fluidity.
That being said, the great many qualities of Metaphor become obvious with the further listening of this album: to start with, the words are intelligent and original. ‘Socrates’ offers, for example, an interrogation on Socrates’ choice of death, which one can summarize by quoting: "…what went through your mind, when you drank that hemlock…" More generally, the album offers meditations on death, feelings, and life, sometimes in the form of dialogues inspired of mythologies or religions (Aphrodite and Pygmalion, Krishna and Arjuna...); the album’s conclusion, in ‘Wheel of the World’ wants to be positive and strong, while remaining fluid. The song can thus seem over-involved, but it is because the group has something to say... In the same way, the incisive guitars and keyboards take interesting unexpected turns, more so than one might expect, weaving very fine interlacings, bringing to the listener’s mind shades of ‘Selling England.’
Lastly, the group shows imagination and humor: witness the curiously titled, ‘You May Call Me Old and Tired Maybe Even Uninspired but Thirteen Heads in the Backyard Says You're Wrong’ (yes, yes, that is indeed the title!), with its low thundering and its quasi-hypnotic tempo/rhythm.
In short, this refined album is far from being derivative, and I for one fully expect we shall all speak again of Metaphor...
California prog rock group Metaphor released Starfooted, back in 2000. At times it sounded like a missing Genesis album from the mid-seventies and at other times a modern progressive rock band. I know some people would call them neo-prog but Metaphor is more in the symphonic vein.
Fast forward to 2004, Metaphor releases Entertaining Thanatos following some line-up changes. On this sophomoric release the only original line-up are John Mabry (vocals), Malcolm Smith (guitars) and Marc Spooner (keyboards). Joining them are bassist Jim Anderson and two drummers (Bob Koehler departed following the recording of two new tracks in 2001 and currently, Jeffrey Baker).
Entertaining Thanatos is a loosely themed conceptual album with a subtitle of “Seven Cheery Songs About Death”. Now don’t let that frighten you away, each of the song themes are dark and rather comical, somewhat the same as early Genesis circa Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound. There are many parallels between Metaphor and Genesis, one being that they were once a Genesis tribute band for a short period of time. One thing I like about Metaphor’s approach to the Genesis sound is they use it as a foundation for the ir music rather as a note-for-note interpretation like other bands that fall into the “clone” category.
If you haven’t already heard their debut, and you like the Genesis style of prog then please do your ears a great favor and purchase Entertaining Thanatos as well as Starfooted. Your ears will thank you!
Progressive Waves (France)
Although I was a little disappointed by the first album by this American band, their second, Entertaining Thanatos, is a production that certainly shows an evolution in quality since that last album.
The first things that stand out are the darkness that is evoked from the whole concept, and a stronger diversity in the band’s influences. As a result of that darkness, the compositions are less tinted by the Genesis and Pink Floyd influences of the previous release. Metaphor has moved forward to develop new, more experimental ideas, bringing to mind groups like King Crimson and ELP, and also with references to Van der Graf Generator. What characterizes Entertaining Thanatos is its diversity of influences; it contains original ideas yet this album should enchant all fans of ‘old’ progressive rock of the 70s.
Everything is there, even the slight imperfections of technique that is sometimes the way of musicians. Maybe this will annoy some people, but at the same time the style will seduce others. Even though sometimes the musicians may be too spontaneous, the musicians of Metaphor are still to be applauded even knowing that this spontaneity may not agree with all listeners.
There is also a certain diversity in the relative quality of the compositions – for some people, for example, putting ‘Socrates’ and ‘Galatea 3.3’ at the beginning of the album may be considered a strategic error, yet it still makes a strong impression on the listener. It will be difficult to ignore this band, with tracks that present the image of the band so well, for example ‘Yes and No’ which lasts about 18 minutes without at all becoming boring. The song order leaves an imbalanced impression and it may be hard for one not to make good use of the remote control to re-order!
So Entertaining Thanatos will no doubt be one of the good surprises of this year, especially for anyone that was less-than-satisfied with Metaphor’s first album, which to me was a bit plain and left to anonymity.
This CD is a good surprise, and I expect that the band will continue to evolve – I look forward to that evolution.
Translation courtesy of Crystel Tuifua