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Threshold - Demanding accessibility - June 2001


As wide a field Progressive Metal is, there always are some bands that just stand out from the masses, also without brain-twisting complexity and absurd style-mixtures, but just by top-class song-writing. British THRESHOLD are without doubt among the best bands this genre ever has had to offer and have released their fifth studio-album "Hypothetical" a short while ago, which is demanding, but still has all those brilliant melodies. More than reason enough to get in touch with the band and I herewith thank keyboarder Richard West for a truly outstanding interview!!!

You could be categorised as Progressive Metal, yet you never lose control of the song, there always is a flow to the composition, without exaggerated instrumental-parts. How important is it for you to keep the song demanding, yet still accessible for he listener?

Band

Demanding yet accessible, yes I like that, that should be our mission statement! But I think it's a misconception that bands write for the listener. We don't know exactly what our fans like, they listen to lots of music we've never heard, so it would be impossible for us to try and write for their tastes. We only know what's demanding and accessible for ourselves, something that lifts us or moves our spirits. As long as we're writing like that then hopefully our fans will stay with us.
I think that within the bounds of Progressive Metal it's important to have a demanding edge to the music. We found this on our new album, there's a ballad called "Keep My Head" that would probably fit nicely onto an Elton John- or Robbie Williams-album, and our fans are very divided over whether or not we should have recorded it. For the record, THRESHOLD have no regrets about the song, maybe Robbie will release it as a single one day!
Richard West As for exaggerated instrumental-parts, this has never been a priority for THRESHOLD. I think it's very easy to go too far with solo sections and lose the focus of the song, so we try to keep things in proportion.

How would you personally describe the sound of THRESHOLD to somebody, who has never heard any material yet?

Normally I'd point them at our website or lend them a CD, it's much easier!
Describing THRESHOLD to people in the UK is impossible, because they've never been exposed to Progressive Metal. I normally mention bands like METALLICA and GENESIS that I know they've heard. But I don't really think THRESHOLD sound like any other band, although there are obviously similarities with other Progressive Metal-acts. Everyone in the band has such different influences, so there's never much chance of us sounding like any one band.

Band

Contrary to the way many Prog-bands go, which are, as it often is put, "maturing", with that incorporating other styles and/or getting mellower, you have turned heavier than ever before with your new album "Hypothetical", as prime example "Long Way Home" could be named here...

That's interesting, because I think of "Long Way Home" as being quite similar to "Consume To Live" from our first album, and not really any heavier or any less heavy than before. THRESHOLD have definitely matured, but not in the way you mention. I think our writing has become more focused and we work harder on our quality control. But THRESHOLD don't plan to get mellower - with Karl and Nick dominating our sound with their heavy riffs, there's no danger of that!

Karl Groom

Does the title "Hypothetical" reflect on anything special?

I never know how to answer this question! Our last album "Clone" was easy, it had a conceptual storyline about a cloned human so the title was never a problem. But with "Hypothetical" there wasn't such a strong thread linking the songs, so we need a less focused title. Jon suggested "Hypothetical" quite by chance I think, and it somehow seemed to fit. In retrospect it could be seen to weaken the impact of the lyrics which is a shame, but it's still a good title I think.

It has also released as limited edition in a classy DigiPak with bonus-tracks. Do you try to stand out optically in the flood of releases?

Cover 'Hypothetical'

We always hope for great artwork, I think all bands do, but we've not always been lucky! I thought our first album "Wounded Land" had a wonderful cover, but nothing else really inspired me until "Clone", and now also "Hypothetical". The DigiPak looks great, I've never seen anything so glossy!

"Hypothetical" has an awesome cover by Thomas Ewerhard. Does it have any connection to the title, the lyrics?

I think it's one of the best covers I've seen in a very long time, Thomas Ewerhard is an amazing artist. The cover is very much connected to the album title, the idea of a hypothetical city. I think it's almost a 21st century Roger Dean, he did so many great progressive covers in the 70's. The cover also ties in with some of the lyrical concepts too, it seems to draw elements from the songs, so it turned out to be the ideal cover for us.

Nick Midson

The lyrics on "Hypothetical", too, are different than with most other bands... How important is it for you to have deep-going lyrics?

I think that goes back to what you were saying earlier about being demanding. We feel the same way about lyrics, we want something that stimulates thoughts, something that makes you look at things you hadn't looked at before. It's so easy to switch off from intellectual, philosophical and spiritual ideas when you start to get older. It's a shame that although age can bring wisdom, it can also bring apathy and cynicism.
So just when you get to the point where you can start to understand the world, you decide not to bother. A good example is nature programmes on TV. They always marvel at the wonders of nature, how everything seems to have been perfectly engineered in a way that man cannot even dream of, but then they always try to explain it by saying everything evolved from sludge without any guidance.
Mac Questions like "how could that possibly happen" or "where did the sludge come from" or "is it possible that God was involved" are never asked. But when natural disasters happen or wars break out, God is always the first to get the blame! I hope that our songs get people thinking, the power of thought is a great gift.

Does the album again have some sort of concept, like previous efforts?

Band im Studio

Not especially, although we mostly looked at mankind, earth and heaven and explored how they interact. But each song tells its own story, and each song is open for the listener to discover their own meaning. For example, "Long Way Home" is essentially a song about how every time we ignore God and choose to go our own way, then we just make life harder for ourselves, but I think it could equally be applied to a relationship or a friendship. But essentially there's not supposed to be a single concept like we had on "Wounded Land" or "Clone", no.

How is your status in your home-country?

Jon Jeary

We live there, but that's all! Britain really ignored Progressive Metal during the 1990's, so bands like DREAM THEATER, FATES WARNING and THRESHOLD are virtually unknown there. For years we were regarded as too heavy, and now that Nu Metal is becoming popular in the UK we're probably now regarded as too light!
We do have a lot of fans over there, but it's very hard to reach anybody when UK radio doesn't play our sort of music. As a result we tour in Germany a lot more than we do in the UK.

You had started out on Giant Electric Pea, now you have docked at InsideOut Music. What had it been like at GEP and what has changed for you since signing with InsideOut?

Our time with GEP was great, they gave us our first record deal and they've always been good friends. But their focus has always been on Progressive Rock rather than Metal, and there came a time when we realised we weren't going to advance any further together, so InsideOut seemed to be a sensible place to go. They have such a good reputation across Europe and we've known the guys there for a long time, so we're glad to be on board.
They've always distributed our albums in Europe anyway, but now we've moved they've been able to work much harder for us with sales, interviews and reviews, so we've been able to make a much greater impact on the music scene than before.

You all have quite big experience from playing in other bands, is THRESHOLD your top-priority?

Johanne James

Yes, I think it's the top priority for all the band members at the moment. As musicians it's inevitable that we're going to want to do other things, and I think that helps to bring more into THRESHOLD as a result.

And which other bands and projects are active at the moment?

I'm currently working on new material with my wife Farrah, Mac's busy on a solo album, and it looks like Karl's lined up to do another SHADOWLAND-album with Clive Nolan from ARENA. I think that's all there is right now! Me and Karl are also busy remixing the second THRESHOLD-album "Psychedelicatessen" from 1994, which we're going to be re-releasing through InsideOut in September. We never felt we achieved the full potential of that album, there were many things we didn't have the time or the facilities to do, so we're looking forward to finally releasing it the way we always wanted it to sound. We're also adding some extras this time around, but we're keeping quiet about that for now!

Could you please tell me a bit about the personalities of the members of THRESHOLD?

Ha ha! How honest do you want me to be? They're all great guys, good to be in a band with and all excellent musicians. We probably feel more like a family now than we ever have before. But if I had to describe them, I'd say Mac is the wild sea, Karl is the calm day, Jon is the unsettled sky, Nick is the quiet cove, Johanne is the still water. So I guess that makes me the weather man?

Cover 'Wounded Land'

You haven't had a really stable line-up from the beginning, with vocalists and drummers frequently changing. Now Mac sounds as if he has found a safe place within the line-up. What had been the reason for the many changes?

It's not something we ever wanted to happen, but I guess each change happened for its own reason. Somehow it's made us stronger rather than weaker, and we now seem to have the best line-up in terms of quality and stability. I miss the other guys, we had good times with everybody but I guess things sometimes have to move on.

Looking back, could you please give me a few words on each of your releases so far, how you see them today?

Cover 'Psychedelicatessen'

Well I've already mentioned "Psychedelicatessen", I love the album, but I'll love it more when the remix is finished.
We'll also be re-releasing the debut-album "Wounded Land" in September, which many fans still say is our best one. I don't feel quite so attached as I was only really a session player for the band at the time, but I think it's got some great songs like "Sanity's End" and "Mother Earth".
The third album "Extinct Instinct" was probably our most progressive album, I'm always surprised whenever I hear it again, it's got so many moments that I forget are there.
Then we did "Clone" in 1998, the first with our current singer Mac, that was more focused, less progressive, and helped us to re-define our sound a bit, and I like it for it's darker atmosphere.
And finally there's "Hypothetical", which for me is really our finest hour so far. I think everything about it is a giant step forward for THRESHOLD, the songs, the performance, the production, the artwork, everything just came together for this one.

Cover 'Extinct Instinct'

All those years back, what made you choose Progressive Rock/Metal as "your" genre? Could you imagine playing any other style to express your musical and lyrical ideas?

Well we kind of cover other styles in our projects outside of the band. THRESHOLD started off as a straight Metal-band, but Jon's always been into the progressive stuff, and then Karl got involved in Prog with SHADOWLAND, so I think the extra influences just worked their way into the band sound. I also toured with SHADOWLAND before I joined THRESHOLD, so I guess I understood where Karl was coming from and it's just kept progressing from there.

How much does contemporary music influence you in your song-writing?

I think everything we hear has an influence, it all gets absorbed into our sub-conscious and evolves into something that works for us. If you compare, say, an early FATES WARNING or SAVATAGE-album with a new one, all of the ideas, the sounds, the quality of the production, the style of the melodies, they're all hugely different from each other, to a point where I guess it would be impossible for those bands to record a new album that sounded just like the old ones.
I think it's the same for THRESHOLD, our base of ideas has grown and so has the diversity of our music, it's both inevitable and refreshing, it means we can always record new albums that sound different, that have progressed from the last one. At least I hope so!

Cover 'Clone'

What could you name as the best and the worst moment in your career?

The worst moment would probably be when we toured with DREAM THEATER! Don't get me wrong, it was a great tour and they're a great band, but we didn't exactly get the best from the experience. THRESHOLD was very unsettled at the time, there was a lot of friction between band members, so we were too busy having problems and hardly even spoke to the DREAM THEATER-guys. And the result of all the friction was that our singer and drummer left and the band virtually died for two years, so instead of building on our success we pretty much threw it all away.
As for the best moment, that's right now! I believe that THRESHOLD feels and sounds better than ever, we've all grown up a bit and we're moving forwards, doing well and looking forward to the next chapter.

THRESHOLD by now is a truly established act in the Prog-scene. How do you view the status of Progressive Metal? A few years back it has had a relatively big success, but by now it has dwindled away again a bit.

Living in the UK it's hard to tell, as Progressive Metal's never really had success over there. We noticed a general drop in 1999 in Europe, a lot of bands were saying that it was a hard year for sales and for touring, but now in 2001 everything for THRESHOLD is going great, so we're looking forward to seeing how the tour attendances will be. We've got a great European tour lined up and a couple of festivals as well, and we're promoting an album that's sold more copies than anything else we've released, so it seems like things are going well right now, for THRESHOLD anyway.

For many years now Metal has had a very difficult stand in Great Britain, yet still Britain has a big tradition in Progressive Rock and Metal. What do you think could be the reason for this rather strange situation?

Great Britain always seems to be obsessed with finding the next big thing, and I guess it saw Progressive Metal as not sounding new. Everyone was crazy over electronic music and young boy and girl bands, so they mostly ignored Progressive Metal. Now that Nu Metal has arrived, that's finally brought guitars back to the radio in the UK, so maybe there's hope for us yet.

How do you view the big trend-orientation in Great Britain? Almost any band that is hailed as the next new thing is flavour-of-the-day-tainted, with many trends coming over from the USA getting almost completely absorbed by British bands and magazines, contrary to most of the rest of Europe...

Exactly, and right now it's LIMP BIZKIT, LINKIN' PARK, that kind of thing. But at least it's woken people up to heavy music again, our MTV and VH-1 music channels are starting to play a lot of Nu Metal, Old Metal, even some progressive stuff again, so I think it's been healthy for us. I'm not personally a big fan of Nu Metal, going back to what you said at the beginning I prefer something a bit more demanding, but there's some good stuff around right now.

What kind of music do you listen to at the moment?

There's a huge pile of CD's in my car at the moment, the latest albums by FATES WARNING and IN FLAMES, some old QUEEN and GENESIS, TESTAMENT, FEAR FACTORY, PARADISE LOST, MINDFEED, the new one by ARK. I'm really enjoying the music-scene at the moment, it's more inspiring to me than at any time in the past.

And to end the interview, my traditional last question: What is your +favourite question about THRESHOLD that you haven't been asked yet, but would finally like to answer?

Hmm. Well, I sort of left the band in 1999, and lots of people asked me why, but nobody really asked me why I came back, so here, for one time only, is the true reason. Last year I went to a church service and someone I'd never met said they had a prophecy for me, and it was one word - THRESHOLD.

Discography:

1993: Wounded Land (CD, Giant Electric Pea)
1994: Psychedelicatessen (CD, Giant Electric Pea)
1995: Livedelica (CD, Giant Electric Pea)
1997: Extinct Instinct (CD, Giant Electric Pea)
1998: Clone (CD, Giant Electric Pea)
1999: Decadent (CD)
2001: Hypothetical (CD, InsideOut)

Alexander Melzer



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