Sound — 6
Just looking at the cover art of the new 3 album, I got shown a vibe very similar to that of Coheed & Cambria (who, as it happens, are friends and touring partners with Coheed). A friend of mine had shown me a few songs from their previous album, 2004's 'Wake Pig' and I thought they were alright, but now I've got my hands on their newest effort, 'The End Is Begun', and it's quite a journey. The Coheed & Cambria feel I got from the artwork is, as I predicted, reflected in the music very much. Frontman Joey Eppard's voice is very high, and similar to Claudio Sanchez, his brother, Josh used to drum for Coheed. Of course, I'm not going to compare this album to C&C on every aspect but if you have an interest in progressive rock, or their variant in particular, read on As anyone who has heard Joey Eppard's solo album, 'Been To The Future' will know, his guitar style is very unique. He combines classical flamenco guitar with slap, legato and rather complex fingerpicking. He and Billy Riker combine in a very interesting fashion, as often Joey will play underlying but complex acoustic parts while Billy will play an electric guitar, lightly distorted playing riffs or backing chords (backing to the vocals, which, unlike an awful lot of progressive rock, are arguably the most important element of the music). Of course, that isn't to say that they're a simple duo who sticks to a formula. No, there's dual guitar solos, chugging metal riffs, slick leads and many a manner of acoustic harmonies. Joey's guitar playing is very impressive, and he has a great sense of melody and rhythm intertwining. His technical skill is even more astounding when you take into account the fact that he sings too. Billy, on the other hand, is slightly disappointing. As I have said, he isn't meant to be showing off, and his performance is near perfect, but the parts that he's (presumably) written don't live up to the vibrant performance of Eppard, though there are some very notable exceptions on 'The End Is Begun' and 'Diamond In The Crush' Joey's passionate guitar playing is matched in his vocal performance. The obvious similarities to singers like Geddy Lee and Claudio Sanchez are promising when you consider the calibre of both those guy's vocals and their respective bands. However, I'm not entirely impressed with him. A lot of the time he has absolutely no definition on his words, and his range is quite small. He can go incredibly high (though his conviction and strength of voice deteriorates considerably when he hits really high notes) but he's not much of a singer for all moods on 'The End Is Begun'. His lowest notes are mid-range for an average male and at no point does he have the strength of the famous singers of his style. However the vocal melodies (and the attention the production puts on them) are very well written, and always backed up by solid backing vocals from Daniel Grimsland and Chris Gartmann. There is, unfortunately, one song with absolutely unacceptable vocals, and that's 'Battle Cry'. The singing is, sometimes, entirely out of tune, and the accent he puts on the words only irritates me more. He totally ruins a song that would otherwise be quite good. Music like 3's demands a very competent drummer who knows exactly what he's doing, and Chris Gartdrumm Gartmann is more than up to the task. He displays some formidable technicality but, unlike some drummers from progressive bands, he will play nothing more than a simple rock beat if it's what's required to improve the song as a whole. He reminds me a lot of Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison, as he uses catchy rhythms and simple beats in a way that makes the song itself that bit more complex. His fills also impress me in the same way that Harrison's do, interesting use of bass and toms in the context of the song. However, his best performance is easily closing epic 'The Last Day', where he, guest Jerry Marotta and keyboardist Joe Stote (Stote is also credited with percussion) go through a massive catalogue of percussion. There's electronic drumming, bongos, tabla, regular rock drumming and many other unusual (but expertly applied) types of drum used in the song (and, in less concentration, the album as a whole), and it does nothing to draw attention to itself. This is both good and bad because obviously people should hear his contributions but there's also a great consideration on what's best for the band and their sound as a whole. Stellar drumming. Variety is not something that eludes the rest of the band, either. Bassist Daniel Grimsland's prowess with his fingers should not be ignored. He displays a pallet of techniques and uses them with taste and musical sense. As with the drumming, there's no showboating going on here, but if you care to delve deeper you can see exactly how accomplished he is. His tone in particular is very good, and made me look up what gear he uses (Spector Basses, if you're interested). There's times where he'll follow the simple root notes, sometimes he'll play interesting countermelodies to Joey's acoustic guitar (at the same impressive speed and consistency) and there's moments where he'll stick in parts that are approaching bass solos (see 'My Divided Falling'). Unfortunately the arrangements do not give him a lot of space to make them 'solos' where he is the main focus, but the technicality and originality of these parts are more than enough to show me that Daniel Grimsland is a fantastic bassist. I hope to find out that he's involved in other projects which give him more room to breathe. I think that ultimately, there's one section of 3 which wastes the band's potential. The keyboards (by Joe Stote) and string arrangements (by Daniel Grimsland) are very flat and could really have been used to beef up their progressive tendencies. Instead, they mostly accentuate the guitar parts or give dull backing to whatever else is going on in the song. The album's 'epic factor' would be sky high if these instruments were used to their full potential. Think, for a moment, of Coheed & Cambria's 'Welcome Home'. The string arrangements in that song were incredible, yet they weren't the main focus of the song. That was a true addition to the collective band. 3's strings and keyboards fail very obviously in this way. If it weren't for 'The Last Day' or 'Been To The Future' all the songs on this album would simply be catchy pop-rock songs with some odd rhythms, and the keyboards/strings were the band's opportunity to make 'The End Is Begun' truly progressive. There's no power behindanything in 3. I think that if the strings had more of a presence then the rest of the band would sound all the more enthusiastic before it. Instead, it sounds slightly robotic (as much as the vocals would like to tell you otherwise) and dull. It's very sad that a section which ultimately composes so little of a band's sound can decide so much. Then again, it's the low emphasis on the strings, keyboards and other sounds that let down 3.
Lyrics — 9
Despite his shortcomings as a singer, Joey Eppard's lyrics are fantastic. I get the feeling that the album has a running theme or concept (the brilliant artwork only convinces me more), but I can't quite put my finger on what. There are human subjects, personal questioning and imagery that would put Claudio Sanchez and his comic-book saga to shame. Songs like 'All That Remains' have very apparent meanings but others, such as 'Bleeding Me Home' are cryptic and thought-provoking. There are no precise examples of great lyricism that jump right out at you but the overall impression it leaves on me is dark, but very spiritual (which is, funnily enough, what 3 describe their music as). Definitely worth a read if you do pick up the album.
Overall Impression — 6
It's tough to pinpoint real justification for my overall opinion on 'The End Is Begun', because the individual members are (for the most part) impressively accomplished at their instruments. The songwriting is professional and the lyrics are amazing but there's just something missing from it. Perhaps it's the epic strings, as I suggested earlier. Perhaps it's the mixing, which gives way too much exposure to the vocals, and nowhere near enough to the guitars or keyboards. In fact, it's the latter explanation which really takes away a lot of the 'progressive' impression that I was told 3 are meant to give you. The mix gives a lot of songs a simple ballad feel, despite the fact that the instruments other than the vocals are far from it. The vocals get on my nerves sometimes, and their importance to the impression 3 gives does not help me like the band any more. 'The End Is Begun' is an approachable album, and perhaps a good introduction to progressive rock but if you're already well acquainted with prog masters like King Crimson, Yes and Rush then you won't find anything special in 'The End Is Begun'.