5 out of 5 Stars!
When I saw that the new album by this seasoned Progressive-Rock band contained only a single song—an epic track with no breaks—the first word that popped into my mind was, “Seriously”?
But why that word? Well, through the decades, the number of bands that could tackle such an arduous task was one thing, but the number of bands that could do so without also allowing the “dreary factor” from taking control was quite another. Therefore, I was more than a little skeptical (generally pessimistic), even though I had rated the two previous albums by this band 4.5 Stars.
But when listening to this newest release from Toxic Smile, I couldn’t help but experience similar (and thrilling) feelings to the ones I had when listening several years ago to Echolyn’s Mei album (another album comprised of only a single track)—that music lovers today are so damned lucky. Why? Because musicians of the modern era have more freedom than ever before. Many artists no longer have the mighty record company executives forever demanding their bands “adhere to the rules.” Artists no longer have the constant threat to produce that all-important 45 RPM single “hit” of yesteryear forever dangling over their heads like the sword of Damocles lest the record label dump them in the blink of an eye. Artists no longer have to face a constant stifling of their creativity because of vinyl’s length limitations of separate A-Sides and B-Sides. In the modern era, in the days of computerized recording techniques, in the days of CDs and, more importantly, digital downloads, the limitations of the last century are now completely passé. If an artist has an adventurous spirit, if a band possesses the drive and the capabilities and the creativity to extend a song idea into a magnum opus of jaw-dropping length, they are free to do so, the dinosaur days of total record company control and the limitations of the old recording processes and formats be damned for eternity.
Therefore, it’s always refreshing for me to discover a band that is willing to embrace its modern freedom and actually attempt an album such as Toxic Smile’s latest release, made up of a single track of more than forty-two minutes. Certainly some bands of my youth managed to work around the old limitations, and had some free-thinking record company “suits” willing to give them leeway. Who can forget Iron Butterfly shocking the industry by issuing the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album, with its “B” Side being a single song of the same name? Soon thereafter, bands such as Yes delivered “Close To The Edge” (from the album of the same name) and “The Gates of Delirium” (from Relayer) and did so seemingly with ease—and let’s not forget the four separate songs that took up one side each of the Tales From Topographic Oceans album. In the same period, Emerson, Lake & Palmer (with the mammoth “Karn Evil 9”) had a track that split sides of the Brain Salad Surgery album since its length needed to be divided into three movements. Pink Floyd produced “Echoes” (on Meddle), and Rush created both “2112” (from the album of the same name) and “Cygnus X-1 Book II – Hemispheres” (from Hemispheres). Yet even with today’s freedom, single-song albums are a rarity. And of those that appear on the scene, only a fraction are a total success as far as the material itself, the overall musicianship, the production quality, etc.
Therefore, I am pleased (no, make that joyful) to announce that Toxic Smile has indeed created one of those rare recordings—a single-song album that completely works on all levels!
Not only does the track have engaging melodies in each of its various sections, but it comes across as exquisitely arranged and orchestrated, with each musician playing what seems the perfect notes or rhythms in the most appropriate tones and paces. Nothing stands out as jarring like it doesn’t quite fit the entire “sound picture.” Indeed, the song flows from start to finish as a single entity instead of a collection of unrelated tracks that have been cobbled together. Prog-Rock lovers will undoubtedly savor the fact that—apart from the normal guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums—the band incorporates extra percussion instruments, some sax, and a host of both acoustic and electric instruments and sounds. Plus, many moods abound, with a flawless balance of heavy and light moments, and with every guitar and keyboard fill or solo elegantly performed. For fans of Big Big Train, Ageness, Transatlantic, Also Eden, The Flower Kings, and a plethora of similar acts, you’re certain to fall in love with this release as much as I did.
Additionally, one important fact must be mentioned. What struck me during my initial listening of this album is that the one track seems to go by so damned fast. Indeed, even during the second, third, and fourth hearings, I found it difficult to believe the track ended as quickly as it did, even though the clock told me differently. And that fact is commendable in and of itself. It means the lengthy piece is truly engaging, that no segments of the track drag on too long or the song in full doesn’t overstay its welcome. How many times I’ve sat through songs by different artists that came in at only half the length as “Farewell” and yearned that someone with authority had suggested some radical editing, I can’t even begin to count. So for a band to achieve the “seems so short” phenomena for such a lengthy track deserves a hearty round of applause.
Therefore, bravo to Toxic Smile, a band that reminded me why I so fiercely love this genre of music. It typically falls to Prog-Rock bands (groups who, by their very nature, thrive on expanding single ideas into lengthy epics) to attempt something of this immense scope, and better still, to end up with a masterpiece.