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Liquid Tension Experiment - Liquid Tension Experiment CD (album) cover


Liquid Tension Experiment


Progressive Metal

3.81 | 393 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars After the disappointment of finally hearing their long overdue but fatally compromised "Spontaneous Combustion" album (the blame for which goes to Magna Carta Records, and not the band itself), I felt compelled to re-visit the far stronger, self-titled Liquid Tension Experiment debut from 1998: an invigorating tonic following the massive let-down of the later album.

But first, a disclaimer: Progressive Metal isn't my favorite musical sub-genre. And the virile charms of Dream Theater in particular have always eluded me. The music here was cut from the same heavy cloth as DT: ear-catching dexterity; mile-a-minute guitar machismo; Gatling gun twin bass-drum abuse, etc. And no wonder: a full three-quarters of the Liquid Tension foursome were current or future members of Dream Theater, with session veteran Tony Levin the odd man out (but of course he fits easily into any line-up).

So what makes the close cousin of LTE an exception to the Prog Metal formula? The lack of a strident lead vocalist is a definite bonus, to these sensitive ears. As is the more impulsive nature of the music itself. The supergroup was allowed only a single week to conceive, rehearse, and record an album's worth of music, and the challenge seems to have triggered the best instincts in each player.

"Paradigm Shift" raises the curtain in a furious rush of adrenalin, setting the stage for the instrumental fireworks of "Kindred Spirits" and "Freedom of Speech", the latter with an evocative mid-section building into an air-riffer's dream come true, potent even to this reluctant headbanger. Separating the deliberate compositions are several shorter, more relaxed interludes: welcome tongue-in-cheek breaks between all the testosterone-driven fret and keyboard shredding.

But the album earns its gold-plated fourth star, and my abiding affection, for its accidental epilogue: a half-hour improvisation where "not a single note or beat was discussed beforehand" (quoting drummer Mike Portnoy's CD notes). Unplanned jams of this sort always run the risk of going nowhere in a hurry (as happened over most of the "Spontaneous Combustion" album), or failing in playback to re-capture the exhilaration of the actual performance. But the level of sustained energy and intuition displayed here is nothing short of extraordinary. Listen as the music slowly coalesces, kicks into gear, collapses and rebuilds itself, with killer grooves and telepathic focus, again and again over its 28 white-knuckle minutes.

Portnoy himself wrote afterward, "I think this jam really defines all four of us as musicians..." another reason I wish the sardonic disclaimer on the CD cover ("not for the musically faint-hearted", so forth) had been omitted. The entire exercise, randomly indexed into five separate tracks and comically titled "Three Minute Warning", isn't a self-indulgent afterthought. It's an expression of pure, unbridled creativity, and easily the centerpiece of the whole project.

Later LTE recordings, and especially the aborted Liquid Trio sessions, never attained the same high level of prolonged, unpremeditated synergy. Appropriately, for an ad-hoc group of Prog Metallurgists, they struck first while the iron of inspiration was still hot.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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