THRESHOLD: More Prog, but Still Heavy

Threshold - Interview with Karl Groom

UK’s prime progressive metal outfit Threshold have had a fair amount of line-up changes during their almost three decades long career. After spending ten years with the band in his third run, singer Damian Wilson made a decision to leave Threshold in early 2017. The group looked no further and former vocalist Glynn Morgan returned to the fold. Morgan was a part of Threshold between 1993 and 1996, with whom the band released Wounded Land and Psychedelicatessen.

On the verge of their 30th anniversary, Threshold return this September 8th with the release of their eleventh studio album Legends of the Shires via Nuclear Blast, a two-disc concept record which also features a guest appearance of Jon Jeary who was active with the band from 1988 to 2003.

Founder and guitarist Karl Groom spoke for Prog Sphere about this new effort, creative chemistry, and more.

What was your vision for the Legends of the Shires album, and now that you are so close to launch it, can you say that you succeeded in achieving your goals?

Our initial aim for the new album was to create something that had a feeling of being complete as one piece of music. We wanted it to be as focussed as the 2004 release of Subsurface. In many ways, the way to achieve that is by having fewer writers and in this case it was Richard [West, keyboardist]  and myself writing the majority of the music. As it happened, Steve [Anderson, bassist] was the only other band member to contributed and was able to fit in very well with the musical and lyrical theme. I prefer not to plan things too tightly, because this will limit creativity. However, we did want to bring in some more progressive elements, while still retaining a heavy sound. In the end, we have exceeded our own expectations for the album.

Threshold - Legends Of The Shires - Artwork

What, in your opinion, made this the right time to pursue that vision?

We certainly didn’t plan to write a double concept album when we started to compose for Legends of the Shires. It was a totally organic process that ended up with 83 minutes of music.

When Richard and I began to write for a new record we didn’t reach a situation where it came to natural conclusion at 50 minutes to one hour. In fact we spoke about this and decided to keep writing while the inspiration kept coming. At some point we decided it would be a double album and wanted to make it our first concept record since Clone in 1998. The music will just fit onto a double LP and crucially for us, the tracks will still be in the correct order when transferred to the four sides of vinyl.

The album art looks very Tolkien-esque. Is it a way for you to communicate what is presented on the record in a musical way?

The final cover is by Russian artist Elena Dudina and we were very happy when we came across this piece. We had been searching for months for something that alluded to the story and atmosphere of the music and lyrics. I can remember a good feeling as a music fan when finding a cover that depicted in your mind something of the flavour of the music that you could expect from a band. It is best to find a piece of artwork that is already complete, rather than telling an artist what you want and boxing them in with our ideas. They are creative people too and need freedom to express their best work.

We did realise that some people would make links to Tolkien with the album title and artwork, but it is not meant to be the case.

What was the creative chemistry for Legends of the Shires like, especially knowing that Glynn Morgan returned to the band after more than 20 years? How much did he contribute to the album in its creative phase?

All the music was written and mostly recorded before Glynn returned, but he still worked to the demos and I felt that gave him the best chance to approach things like any other band member. Even with lyrics and melody lines fully formed, a vocalist always brings their own personality and performance to an album and this added a lot to the final record.

We gave him three weeks with the new album and he learnt most of it in that time. Later he came back for another session to complete the remaining songs. Glynn has now met Steve and Johanne [James, drummer] a few times socially and for a photo shoot. Also we recently recorded our video clip for “Small Dark Lines” together and he has fully integrated again. I think Glynn would tell you that he really missed being in the band and it is good to see him return.

Speaking of the album’s creative process, provide some insight into it. Were there any drastic changes in your approach comparing with your previous records?

It is always planned to improve every aspect of production and arrangement each time we start a new record. I guess Richard and I are looking at new keyboards sounds and effects sources. It is also a good excuse to update guitar equipment and find new methods. Our demos are more complete a closer to the final product than ever now. Probably the biggest change over the years is that we record many of the guitars and keyboards during the writing process. This gives us more time to assess what we can improve as the recording goes along.

Did the environment in any way influence the vibe the album transcends?

My own environment and the way I feel at the time of writing always has a major impact on the song writing process. There are never any pre-conceptions when I start on a new album and I always try writing in the time immediately preceding the recording, rather than collect music over years. In this way I can create a cohesive musical sound and recognize my state of mind from an era when the album was created. A sort of Threshold time capsule if you like.

Legends of the Shires consists of 2CD’s and is over 80 minutes. Considering the climate in the world of music today, would you say that it was a bit risky to release a lengthy piece of music?

I am not sure that you could ever consider Threshold as a commercially motivated band and it has always been driven by the love music. We started writing our own songs because we couldn’t find another band with the style that we wanted to hear. Fortunately I have a record label that value our creativity and allow us to move on and experiment as we see fit.

There are many easier ways to make a successful living than music, so you have to be driven! Maybe albums are selling less physically, but downloads are increasing by an equal measure and progressive metal fans have generally been very supportive in keeping their music alive. The only downside for me is streaming, where record company and artist gain next to nothing and the middlemen suck the industry dry. I would rather fans take it for nothing somewhere than use those sites.

You will embark on a European tour in support of the album in November and December. What can you tell me about the setlist for this run? I suppose that the accent will be on the new record, but I’m sure that fans will want to hear many of the songs from your previous albums.

With the return of Glynn, we will perform a couple of songs from Psychelicatessen (including “Innocent”) that fans have wanted to hear and many from the new Legends of the Shire album. Of course there will be some live favourites and many have expressed an interest to hear Glynn perform songs originally recorded by Mac [Andrew McDermott, late former singer]. His voice compares well with him and Dead Reckoning was never heard live with Mac.

Threshold 2017

In which way did the departures of Damian Wilson and Pete Morten affect the new album? The band’s current line-up works as a quintet, so do you have in plan to introduce a new guitarist or hire a session player for the upcoming tours?

Their presence or departure had no affect on the writing of the new album whether in or out of the band. Every band member in Threshold has always been entitled to write for the band, but neither had a song for this album. We always demo our songs with a female voice to avoid having any limitations on creativity and this means I can compose in a way that avoids falling into obvious patterns. All three of our singers would bring their own performance at the time of recording and were able to translate what we wanted in the past.

Damian came to see me at the studio in October and said he was leaving Threshold. In addition, he gave me some names of singers that might replace him. Some weeks later said he would like to continue and started to record, but by then the atmosphere had changed in the band and he didn’t want to commit to further live shows. We all felt there would be compromises in what we planned to do going forward. I never want to be in a position of forcing someone to be active in Threshold, so we thanked him for his time in the band and wish him well with his projects.

Pete was originally used to replace Nick Midson live and only ever played guitar on the three tracks he wrote for Threshold when recording. He was never really brought in with recording in mind and was meant to be a live session player. I think Pete is talented and wanted to be the main focus of a band and formed his own solo project as singer and guitarist. His style is quite different from what we have built in Threshold, so he always had to adjust his natural ways to fit in with our sound.

We realized that we didn’t need 2 guitarists for everything. Glynn is a great guitarist and will play live for the parts that need it, as he already did it for his own band years ago.

What else can fans expect from Threshold in the near future? What are your plans?

Our agent is still planning more dates and we will look forward to festivals next summer too. For now we are focused on the release date and preparing for our European Tour. When it comes to the point we are inspired to create a new album, Glynn will be fully involved again and bring his songwriting skills back to Threshold.

Legends of the Shires is out on September 8th via Nuclear Blast; pre-order it here. Stay updated for the latest news and tour dates via Threshold’s official website.

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