Clockwork - Surface Tension

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Laser's Edge
Catalog Number: SR3003
Format: CD
Total Time: 54:05:00

I decided to give a song by song rendition of this disc, since it is so diverse in nature and I couldn't possibly capture all of the ideas in a single review. Not only that, if you are familiar with some of the bands that Ken Golden signs to his various labels, you know that they are not your ordinary run-of-the-mill prog bands, be it prog rock or prog metal. Ken is bent on signing bands that exemplify what the "true" meaning of progressive music stands for. The emphasis is on diversity, and it's obvious that this is what Ken is after in his search for bands. A prime example of this would be one of his latest releases, Mind's Eye. A very talented, semi-complex, prog metal band that is actually sometimes hard for me to follow; not because of the technical prowess, but because of the diversity and ever changing styles that the band goes through on each song.

The same can be said about Clockwork. A young, talented band that does not put their influential eggs in one basket, but seeks to draw from a variety of "styles" of music, much less from a variety of bands. The emphasis is on the style of music they play, not the style of bands. So be prepared to be surprised as well as somewhat confused when you hear this band, because there is no formula to follow here. It's not calculated. It's not average. It's not run of the mill. It's progressive music as interpreted by Clockwork. If you are truly into the purest form of the word "progression," then you should have no problem enjoying this disc from start to finish. Unfortunately, that breed of purist is rarer than the prog genre itself, and lots of listeners will be disappointed to find that Clockwork does not fall into a particular category of music that I can describe to you so that you can decide whether or not you will like this band.

To say that I love it wouldn't be entirely true. To say that I like what this band is doing and respect the music totally would be true. Again, some of the vocal arrangements are my key problem here, as it is most of the time. Ken certainly finds unique sounding singers along with his unique bands, and this one is no exception. I will try my best to describe every aspect of this for you, but I say now that Ken's bands are not one for easy scrutiny and to put down in words for you. It's a matter of hearing the music for yourself and deciding.

The disc is not the actual release, so the band member info is not on the insert, but the song titles are. I won't make reference to the members that I know so as to rule out any bias on my part - but I will reference the playing styles of each along the way.

To start, the disc is 54:00 long, and it contains 8 songs; the longest clocking in at 12:46 and the shortest clocking in at 3:00. How's that for diversity? And the music hasn't begun playing yet. There is a fantastic instrumental on the disc, called "The Convolution Box" clocking in at 8:15 and happens to be one of my favorites, strangely enough.

The song titles:

"Secrets of Centuries"
"One Wing"
"East Of Knowing"
"If These Walls Could Talk"
"Guardin Of Eden"
"The Convolution Box"
"Smile Under Sad Eyes"
"Design of Enlightenment"

Release date ( as per the disc insert ): Feb. 15, 1999
phone: 609-751-6444

"Secrets Of Centuries" - The opening tune has us greeted with a small piano / flute / strings intro, which actually give you the feel that a monstrous, symphonic tune is about to come your way. It's elegant and pretty. The song then goes into it's start, met with guitars, atmospheric keys, and nice crunching structures. As quickly as it started and changed, the heaviness ends and the melodies begin. Quiet, dreamy like, friendly melodies. It then goes into the chorus quickly and then changes right back to the melodies. As you can see, it is all over the place. The writing is brilliant and different. These guys do not follow the norm, and their formulas for sing writing are to be admired. The guitars clearly drive the sound, with the atmospheric keyboards laying down nice sounds right along side. Don't look for simple song structure here; you'll have a hard time keeping up with the tempo changes throughout the disc. From heavy, to soft, to jazzy, to epic, to -------- whatever the band can come up with, you'll be treated to some very interesting music here. Who do they sound like for comparison ? Well - no one. However, try to imagine what Dream Theater would sound like playing very progressive metal with rock tendencies that don't have easy song structures. With DT, you can at least follow the song structures. With Clockwork, forget it, You'll be wondering which song you're on even though you're still on track 1. Also, imagine what DT would sound like at a Neo-Prog level of sound; that might help out a bit.

"One Wing" - If the vocals on this song don't bother you, then you will have no problem with the rest of the disc. The opening vocal harmonies are tough for me to handle, and the long, drawn out notes in harmony wreaka bit of havoc on the old ears. The vocal melodies are a bit strange on this one too - the singer tries to very hard to be dramatic, and at times sounds a bit like he is "talking" the words in an attempt to bring the words to you. The drawn out notes, like on words like "why," which turn into "whhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeee- eeeeee" tend to wreak havoc on me, but it may not bother the average, flexible listener. The song itself is something of a mix between a normal, commercialized AOR sounding song mixed in with signature Clockwork. Very progressive and epic at times with keyboard strings abound. Excellent guitar work and solos, but I'm not sure which guitarist is laying these down, but the solo work is excellent on all of the songs. The highlights for most I'm guessing will be the drum / guitar work. Not heavy at all, and the sound reminds me of about the closest thing that Clockwork can come to being commercial, and it's still light years away from actually being that.

"East Of Knowing" - What if Clockwork visited some foreign country, maybe in the Middle East? This is their tribute to that country. It sounds like a bunch of progressive gypsies got together for this one. The Spanish, acoustic guitars, the Middle Eastern, Egyptian-like violins, the tambourines, all remind me of some foreign group sitting around the campfire one night playing their native tunes. There are no vocals, and this song tends to really show the band's diversity as again, this song sounds nothing like the rest of the bunch. The opening acoustic intro says I'm in Spain, but the rest of the song transports me to other lands as well.... maybe a tribute to several countries ? Get out your tambourines and play along with this one.

"If These Walls Could Talk" - One of my favorites on the disc; and it's no wonder, since it's Clockwork's only attempt at sounding like any other great prog metal band. The opening melodies on this remind me of many bands, with warm melodies and guitar work, and that common ground that lots of prog metal bands have. It's much easier to follow as well, as the song structure is pretty basic and catchy. The vocals are very well done too, and what I think is his best song yet. This is what lots of us look forward to in prog metal; the catchy, melodic, guitar / keyboard driven sound that lots of us adore. Yes, the signature Clockwork sound is there, but in a more easy-to-follow song style. The stops, the starts, the electric to acoustic approach, the small keyboard / flute solos, and then back into the song show us that Clockwork can approach the music in a similar way that everyone else does, but they make sure that they add their own jazzy, fusion-like style into everything they do. This sounds more like their approach to basic prog metal - almost as a tribute to those listeners that are stuck in their ways (much like me) and it works well. Nicely done.

"Guardin' Of Eden" - This is another one of those songs that the vocal harmonies will make or break you. The long, drawn, "whhhhhhhhhhhyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeee" repeated several times will either intrigue you or knock your ears off. In my case, it killed me. It also shows the vocal diversity of the singer, and his ability to hit the high notes. This is one of the strangest songs on the disc as well. It is almost a plethora of fusion, and it shows the band's influences. This is where the band shows where each player is influenced from and how well they can mix those influences into one sound. This song is all over the place, and fans of Liquid Tension Experiment, Jazz, Fusion, or anyone who just loves when bands leave the norm and strut their stuff no matter what the style will dig this tune. For the average listener, it will be difficult to handle. For me, the diverse vocal styles and harmonies send this one away very quickly. Again, this song sounds like no other on the disc, and it's almost like listening to 8 different bands at once. Did I mention the vocal processing used here as well ? Oh yes - that standard has reached Clockwork as well. Imagine the old bull horn effect........If you don't mind the vocal harmonies on this song, you are truly a flexible listener.

"The Convolution Box" - Even though it's an instrumental, it's one of my favs on the disc. I'm not sure why or how to explain that, but I think it's not only the heaviest tune on the disc, but the talent displayed by this band on this song is amazing. This is where you will hear what each memeber of this band can really do; separately and together. Check out the drumming on this track and add Anthony Sciamanna to your list of new drummers to admire and love. This track sounds like a cross between a VERY progresive Mayadome and maybe some Liquid Tension Experiment in a more melodic sense. Musicians take note - this is great work from all instruments. Not only that, the song itself is written in a way that can be followed, yet still remain ultimately progressive. I'm not one for jams, but when it's done this well, I'll listen. As the song goes on, I am reminded of some Soundscape in a live setting and that is saying quite a bit. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the amazing guitar work on this song. Clockwork like their Spanish-styled acoustic guitar playing, ad it shows up here once again. Very interesting the way they incorporate this Spanish sound into a heavy progressive tune and make it work. Easily the best musical work on the disc, and worth the price of admission. With vocals, who knows what this monster would sound like ? I'd' love to see this band play this song live. Excellent musicianship.

"Smile Under These Sad Eyes" - This is Clockwork's attempt at a ballad - done up progressive. It's a 4:00, slow, acoustic, almost commercial-like sound. Very mellow, very serene, and even though it doesn't fit into the scheme of the rest of the disc, it's done well if you don't mind the cheesy chorus and lyrics. Hey - even prog bands have their soft spots, and this is Clockwork's. Again, it just goes to show how diverse this band can be, and the singing on this one shows how melodic and passionte the singer can be. Imagine that listeners will probably wonder what this song is doing on this disc, escpecially after coming off that last monster instrumental. I say, let the band have it's moment.

"Design Of Enlightenment" - Strap in for this one. This is Clockwork at it's finest. This is the 12:46 track I was talking about. Complete with samples (yes I said samples), this is how I see Clockwork in their true form. A nicely laid out song that showcases (once again ) how the band can mix it up in every dept. including some nice synthesized vocal passages and wah-wah type guitar sounds. If the band ever sounded like Dream Theater, or should I say that Dream Theater would do well to attempt to write a song this well at the stage they are at in their career, then this would be it. Reminding a lot of that "Learning To Live"; type style, with the heavy parts seguing right into the soft acoustic, guitar / keyboarded parts, seguing right into a blistering solo. This song and "The Convolution Box" are worth the price of admission here folks. If you like that 13:00 song style that makes you feel like you've just gone through a whole disc in no time, then this is that style I am talking about. Hey - break out your Payne's Gray discs, some of this material sounds a lot like the instrumental passages on "Kadath Decoded;" briefly, but in that style. This is proably the heaviest song on the disc as well, when it does get heavy, and showboats that heavy, crunchy style we all know and love in prog metal. The vocals are at their best here - it sounds like the singer is at his most aggressive yet most melodic as well. No long, drawn out vocal notes, or irritating haromonies, just great singing all around. The guitars shine here - most likely because of the crunch and the way they change from heavy to soft in the blink of an eye. Easily, to write a disc full of this style of song could easily mean "disc of the year," but then a disc full of this would be repetetive as well. Clockwork is about diversity, change, and progression and it's exactly what you get.

Don't look for the usual progressive music formula here. This is one of those rare bands that go outside of the boundaries of prog and incorporate their own style and sound into each and every song yet somehow making it all sound different each time out. It's this very thing that might turn you off.

For me personally, I'd probably play 2-3 songs from this disc constantly, and anyone who wants samples of this band would probably always get the longer songs listed. It's not quite heavy enough for me to praise as "heavy" prog metal, but the tendencies are there. The band mixes up quite a bit of acoustics and keyboards into the sound which makes it seem a little light, but it's a good mix of both. The vocals for the most part are well done, but as I wrote, there are times when I can't listen to the vocal harmonies without rupturing an eardrum. The singer's style is very unique and diverse and it's up to you to decide whether or not he is to your liking. Again, some of the drawn out, long notes tend to bother me and detract from the song itself.

The production is quite good considering that there were many problems during the recording process. I will say that this is not the typical Ken Golden stellar recording, which shows how severe the problems were during the time. You will hear all of the instruments, and the vocals as well, but the entire sound is kind of held back in the mix. It is clear and precise, but it sounds as though the levels could have been raised just a bit in some areas; but again, considering the problems, this is more than an acceptable production and beats out many larger budgeted recordings I might add.

I didn't say much about the individual players, but suffice it to say that these guys (average age 20-23) could be the future of prog metal. The talent level of this band especially at this age is astonishing. For those into drumming and guitars, this is the ticket. Now what I mean is that the drums and guitars are certainly the standout instruments here, and these guys are a lesson in progression. I can't imagine what they'll be doing five years from now, the prospects are scary at this level.

Secrets Of Centuries (The Planetary Quest : Chapter I) (7:09) / One Wing (5:44) / East Of Knowing (3:00) / If These Walls Could Talk (5:15) / The Guardin' Of Eden (7:54) / The Convolution Box (8:15) / Smile Under Sad Eyes (4:01) / Design Of Enlightenment (12:47)

Douglas Gillin - vocals, keyboards, flute, and additional percussion
Anthony Sciamanna - drums, percussion, and dumbek
Chris Pignatelli - guitars and keyboards
Tom Gammarino - guitars
Chris Pignone - bass and fretless bass

Search (ep) (1997)
Surface Tension (1999)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Larry "LarryD" Daglieri

Hits: 962
Language: english


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