Explorer's Club - Raising The Mammoth

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Magna Carta
Catalog Number: MA 9046-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 59:28:00

When you look at the tracklisting for Raising The Mammoth, you think of this release as a mammoth undertaking. Sure, there are only 2 tracks per se, the first lasting 38-plus minutes, the second 28-plus minutes -- however, the first is broken into 3 parts. On one's first listen to the second release from the prog/prog metal supergroup Explorer's Club, one's first thought is that Raising The Mammoth is a dense and crowded slab of music, large and hairy with lots of activity going on at all times. It is only on subsequent listens, as the different sections begin to resolve into their own identities, do you realize that there are sections that are nearly ambient in nature, certainly atmospheric. This makes the bombastic sections are the more massive ... and I mean massive. The second track (though the CD is segmented into 44 different tracks, which will make random-sort an interesting experiment), the mammothly titled "Raising The Mammoth 2 (AKA Prog-o-matic) 1) Gigantipithicus (Instrumental)" is a prog lovers dream - with plenty of keyboards, time changes, and power.

The expeditionary team is smaller than on Age Of Impact, this time featuring Terry Bozzio (drums), Marty Friedman (guitar), James Labrie (vocals), Kerry Livgren (guitar), John Myung (bass), Mark Robertson (keyboards), Steve Walsh (vocals), Gary Wehrkamp (guitar) and the leader of the expedition, Trent Gardner (keyboards, vocals). It's a group that makes quite an impact.

Criticisms that will be leveled at this release indoubtedly will center on the fact that many well-worn progisms are trotted out - the Emersonian-like keyboards of Robertson being the most dominant example. But certainly, you hear Kansas in Livgren's guitar lines, too. Marty Friedman plays most of the leads, while Wehrkamp plays mainly rhythm. Though as Trent notes in the bio that accompanied this release, "occasionally he'll add a three or four-part guitar harmony or something..." Hints at Genesis's "Supper's Ready" appear in the last but one section of "Gigantipithicus" -- yes, echoes of "Apocalypse in 7/8" in Myung's bass here, with some un-Genesis like keyboards that parp like the trumpeting of elephants (which mammoths were, for all intents and purposes). But, those critics are missing the point -- the album is supposed to be an homage of sort to prog rock. Not lyrically, but certainly musically.

Lyrically, it is a dark album which finds the protagonist in a contemplative, depressed mood... questioning his purpose and his life. A person who feels he's lost sight of what's really important. Gardner says he wrote the lyrics while he was in a bad mood - often that's when one's best material comes out. One never questions (really) why they're happy, but we do question why we're unhappy... the answers and the deeper questions that branch of from those answers lead us into finding truths, certainly our own personal truths ... if we dig deep enough. Yes, "raising the mammoth" -- that heavy burder that we've buried... discover it, uncover it, and reveal it. That's just "Passage To Paralysis."

The album begins and ends in a very dramatic manner. At the beginning, this is done in a very classical way that recalls cinematic music -- rumbling percussion and bass, brass orchestrations, a chorus of voices ... which leads into a powerful blast of metal - searing guitar, booming percussion, punchy bass, and those voices (Walsh's voice seems the most recognizable). Thus begins "Passage to Paralysis," the first section. Here we get Gardner's distinctive lyric-writing, but unlike those first Magellan CDs, the sentence-lyrics are tempered by the more poetic phrasing he used on Test Of Wills (having not yet heard Hundred Year Flood at this point, though it's in the queue). It is here where you think of Raising The Mammoth as being dense, and it is. A wall of noise above which Walsh sings wonderfully.

"Broad Decay" is where the dark atmospheric section comes in (one of them). This is very, very dark, oppressively dark. It is a darkness that surrounds you and evokes feelings of isolation. When the piece lightens, but only slightly -- it is an epic piece of music that I just simply love. The vocals (Walsh again), the guitars, the bass, the keys, every thing. At times, Walsh's vocals are haunting and yet warm in being so... a bit of echo and harmony filling the space, bringing a richness to the track. The keys, while parpy and whistly come short of being shrill -- in other words, there is just enough softness at the edge to make them perfect. Love the guitar solo here -- it's easy, laidback and emotional. While it doesn't really recall Gilmour sonically, it is in the same manner of Gilmour. For this track alone I urge you pick this album up. "Broad Decay" is the wideangle view of the ills of modern life - the corruption, the senseless violence, the growing dichotomy between the haves and have nots and the indifference expressed toward it. By the time the section comes to it's end, we have a very soulful piece with gospel-like intensity. Whew ... get to the end of this mammoth track and you are worn out, but we're only half way through.

"Vertebrates" is partly acoustic (Livgren on guitar), with Gardner and LaBrie sharing lead vocals. Both are in fine voice. There were times when I thought of both Asia and Yes, instrumentally speaking. But, as elsewhere, that gentleness becomes something much more massive - here it is chugging bass and guitar, taut percussion, and throaty keys. In fact, the keys go through various changes in a span of only a few moments, but rather than it sounding chaotic or a mismash, it is a natural progression... some great tones here from Robertson. There's a percussive aspect that reminds me very much of Black Moon period ELP (I think that should also be "Black Moon" period ELP) -- boom boom boom - boom boom boom - boom boom boom. As much as you think of ELP, you must also think of King Crimson.

And then comes the tour-de-force that is "Gigantipithicus," with flurries of guitar leads from Friedman (air guitar heaven); heavy, dark, angular interplay between Myung and Bozzio right at the forefront, throttling back for some regal keyboard passages from Robertson... there is so much great stuff going on in this monumental track that you are bound find quite a bit to love, whichever your favoured instrument is. All instrumental, no LaBrie or Walsh here, but there are two guests, Jeff Curtis on additional guitar and Hal 'Stringfellow' Imbrie on additional bass. No wonder it sounded like Myung's bass was the size of an upright (yes, I know I've that analogy elsewhere).

Oh, I had so much more to say about this release... and would have but for the temperment of my computer. Folks that hate Magna Carta, hate ELP, and that think the whole symphonic prog rock thing is merely pomposity; think it is a large, lumbering beast walking the earth long past his extinction date will hate this for those reasons. But for those of use love this kind of stuff, well... Gardner and company have indeed raised the mammoth, have resurrected the hoary beast, while putting new flesh on the bones, bringing the behemoth into the 21st Century. (Un)clever similies aside, I really like this release and am going to name it one of the best for 2002.

Raising The Mammoth 1: (part one) Passage To Paralysis (15:03) - (part two) Broad Decay (11:43) - (part three) Vertebrates (11:17) / Raising The Mammoth 2 (AKA Prog-o-matic) 1) Gigantipithicus (instrumental) (28:44)

Terry Bozzio -drums
Marty Friedman -guitar
Trent Gardner - keyboards, vocals
James Labrie - vocals
Kerry Livgren - guitar
John Myung - bass
Mark Robertson - keyboards
Steve Walsh - vocals
Gary Wehrkamp - guitar

Age Of Impact (1998)
Raising The Mammoth (2002)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin VA

Added: August 25th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

Artist website:
Hits: 1548
Language: english


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