Ice Age - Liberation

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Magna Carta
Catalog Number: MA-9051-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 63:07:00

Listening to Liberation is an exhilarating experience; there is a palpable sense of urgency that hits you from the first insistent notes of "The Lhasa Road (No Surrender)" and stays with you through to the last track. It's an album that commands attention, both due to the music and the lyrics - and if you know me, lyrics are important. The album is called Liberation due to the themes it explores, but it might just as well describe how this quartet play. The music is so epic, and their performance so powerful, that it is, in itself, liberating. The music is painted in large bold strokes, giving the band a tremendously large sound. But those great swaths of sound are filled with lots of little touches, so much so that you could spend years just exploring all of them. This makes me think of two albums in particular - Misplaced Childhood and Point Of Know Return. This doesn't sound like either album, but like them there is such a richness and depth to the arrangements? a finely woven tapestry of music such that each thread not only forms the larger picture, but is a separate element unto itself.

There is no one way to characterize Ice Age's music, as they bring to it only three decades of influences (at least from the prog aspect of their sound). Those influences include some of the more obvious ones, and in particular I will mention Marillion, Dream Theater, and Pink Floyd (just listen to those crying guitar leads in "Howl" for some Gilmour influenced leads). We can also mention Boston ("When You're Ready" recalls Third Stage's parts of "Cool The Engines") and Rush (especially in the drumming). And, of course, Styx, meaning that yes, vocalist Josh Pincus still sounds a bit like Dennis DeYoung - and that's all we'll say on that, since it's only one aspect to his voice.

I don't know if Josh Pincus has ever done theater*, but his vocal projection suggests he's trying to reach the folks in the "nose bleed" seats. His presentation is dramatic, and the depth of each piece's arrangements only supports this epic and theatrical feel. The urgency is made a living thing due not only to Pincus' vocals and Pappas' guitars, but also to the unrelenting musical resolve of Hal Aponte's drums and percussion, and Arron DiCesare's bass. It is this very theatrical element that sweeps you up into the band's music.

After the first two listens, you're hooked, and thinking this is one of the best things you've ever heard. The band fires on all cylinders through the first eight tracks? first nine tracks, really, each track a highlight, though I especially love "A Thousand Years" which encaspules both their power and Pincus' soaring vocals - their most Dream Theater like moment. Another standout track is the instrumental "March Of The Red Dragon" which features some active and tasty bass work from DiCesare (who has since been replaced by Doug Odell). This lead into the epic "The Blood Of Ages" complete with a symphony of keyboard sounds, and guitars flaring out from the main, throaty, tightly chugging rhythm like solar flares from the sun. There is and there isn't a sense of Rush in the instrumental "Musical Cages." It is primarily a showcase for each member to solo, blending various styles and colors to form the whole, drawing upon metal and classical, prog rock and country? It's a musical homage - at least of sorts - to the artists that have influenced the band without quoting directly any one passage. It does end abruptly, which is jarring and unexpected.

"Monolith" is a short, lyrical guitar solo for Aponte - beautiful, actually, and it's shame it only lasts just over a minute. Pincus' counterpart piece is the album's closer, "Tong-Len," a resonant piano (or piano-like keys) piece. It ends the album nicely, the calm after the storm.

"The Guardian Of Forever" is the closest that Ice Age get to prog rock (of the sort called neo-prog) without totally eschewing their metal heaviness. It's another grand epic for the band. It would be the high note on which to end an album, but there are still four tracks yet? and it makes this album about 2 songs too long. Not that you get bored, and not that the band loose their energy or drive, but "The Wolf" ultimately feels unfinished. It has a lot of build up, a lot of energy driving it, and just when you think there will be a big finish, it ends abruptly, the energy exhausted, as if they weren't sure how to end the track and just added a generic flourish. And, once past the initial thrill, which may take a while, you notice another minor flaw - maybe there's just too much going on, to many tempo and time changes, too epic? which is when you realize you're describing prog?

The production on this album is fantastic? you can hear every little nuance, creating a feast for your ears. I mean, there just so many elements that work well as a whole, but are equally interesting on their own. Performance wise, the band are exceptionally tight. It's hard to judge, since albums are generally put together in parts, but dang if that sense of urgency doesn't make you think they couldn't have done this piecemeal? there's just so much energy that you feel they must have been playing off each other live.

Thus ultimately, it is a very, very good release, only falling fractions short of full marks (so much so, that it gets all of them? but it's really a 4.95). I bought this album on the strength of having loved The Great Divide, but it sat unplayed for quite some time. And yet again I'm smacking myself for having done so? leaving it unplayed that is. Ice Age are just so damn good at what they do and I'm looking forward to their next release.

* an interview with Aponte says no.

I noticed something curious about the album's artwork, which prompted me to see just when in 2001 this was actually released. According to Magna Carta's site, it was March of that year. Now, there's nothing really eerie about the back of the booklet photograph of the band in front of the New York skyline, a shot that includes the World Trade Center's twin towers - they are New Yorkers after all. But there is an interior painting by Vince Evans that shows the city of New York as an island? and two towers with smoke rising, forming a figure with his/her hands in the air in a protective gesture. Now? because they are shorter than the surrounding buildings, it is most likely they're not the twin towers, but if we throw perspective and distance into the mix? maybe they are? in either case, it's kinda ominous in retrospect.

The Lhasa Road (No Surrender) (8:38) / March Of The Red Dragon (1:07) / The Blood Of Ages (7:15) / A Thousand Years (6:10) / When You:re Ready (8:58) / Musical Cages (6:31) / Monolith (1:15) / The Guardian Of Forever (6:48) / Howl (1:41) / The Wolf (4:40) / To Say Godbye, Part III : Still Here (8:19) / Tong-Len (1:34)

Jimmy Pappas - guitars
Hal Aponte - drums, percussion
Josh Pincus - vocals, keyboards
Arron DiCesare - bass

'Join' (1998?) (demo)
The Great Divide (1999)
Liberation (2001)
Little Bird (ep) (2004)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: March 7th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1013
Language: english


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