After a four year absence UK-based progressive metal outfit Threshold is back with a new album, entitled “March Of Progress”. I had a very friendly chat with guitarist and main man Karl Groom. He was more than happy to share his views on the new album, the unfortunate death of former Threshold singer Andy McDermott, the return of Damian Wilson and the ills of modern productions…
March Of Progress is quite a dark and moody album, especially as far the overall atmosphere and the subjects tackled on there, but it’s still undeniably Threshold. What’s your take on this?
We really wanted to highlight the English aspect of our sound and character of the band. Many progressive bands have this American thing going on when it comes to production values and on how they approach the songwriting. They all want to sound like Dream Theater in a way. I think Threshold has a sound of its own and we wanted to focus on that.
When it comes down to certain themes and mood we revisited our earlier albums, like “Extinct Instinct”, which is also the album Damian Wilson sang on. We also wanted to emphasise the progressive element in our music, so that’s why the arrangements are more complex and the song are more layered.
To me the album title sounds like a sarcastic and cynical pun on the current economic and political issues in the UK and the European Union. Am I right on the money?
Interesting viewpoint and it does has something to do with the theme. The lyrics are very much Richard West’s department, but generally speaking it’s about people who have a successful career going on for instance, than they get complacent and before they know it everything comes tumbling down. This time around we actually had three lyricists in the band, so that was a nice change of pace. In the coming weeks we’re going to post little videos on our website to explain the meaning behind the lyrics.
Did the untimely death of former Threshold singer Andy McDermott has anything to do with the dark atmosphere of the album? Perhaps you had to get it out of your system?
Not really, because there was quite some space, time-wise, between the unfortunate death of Andy McDermott and the time we started writing music for the new album, so in that sense no. I still feel saddened about his untimely death though, especially with August 3rd coming in, which is the date of of his passing.
We ended on a sour note when Andy decided to leave back in 2007. He sent me a text message that he wasn’t going to perform on two festival dates we had scheduled back then. If we had to cancel those dates it would have cost the band a lot of money. Luckily Damian Wilson stepped in on time, so we could play those two dates. He had to use a lyric sheet, but nevertheless he got the job done and we kept on touring and playing pretty continuously.
This is one of the main reasons why it took so long to come up with a new album and we also had to deal with some lineup changes.
But still Andy left his mark on records like Critical Mass, Subsurface and Dead Reckoning..
Yes, he did. For many people he’s still THE singer for Threshold, because he came aboard when Threshold began to expand its audience.
We got signed by a bigger label, we got bigger recording budgets which really helped to improve the production values of our albums. This really helped to get us exposed to more people.
Andy also had a very unique voice, so he really put his character on the material he sang on. He was our longest serving singing, so we kind of anticipated of getting old together if you like. Sadly things turned out quite different.
Let’s get back to March Of Progress. The writing process was very much a group effort. How did this influence the sound and the general direction of the album?
Yes, it was also the first time Damian brought in a complete song of his own. It was actually an acoustic piece but we turned it into a full band effort. Peter Morten, our other guitar player, wrote two songs. One of them, entitled “Coda” ended up on the album and it deals with the passing of Mac. The other song was a little too different, so we used that one as a bonus track. Our bass player Steve wrote a song together with Richard West, our keyboard player.
I think all those different styles brought a lot of diversity to the album. Some people may argue that all Threshold albums may sound alike, but I feel all of our albums have a distinct character of their own. We actually plan to start the writing process for a new album in October.
And what was it like to work with Damian Wilson again?
It was really great, certainly considering the weird circumstances he rejoined the band back in 2007. I always remained good friends with him after he left Threshold the first time. He received an offer to join a high end musical and he made some good money with it. We kept on working together on different projects and he did some recording at my studio every now and then. He’s in a lot of different bands nowadays, so that will make touring a little difficult, however I’m confident we can work around this. We want to do some touring next Spring.
I would like to talk about your activities as a producer. What is the biggest difference for you between working with other bands versus working on your own projects and music?
It’s actually easier for me to work on other people’s material, because it’s easier to stay objective and find any weak spots that may need some fixing. What I’m aiming for as a producer is to get the best performance out of a band and help them out with my knowledge and experience. I don’t need to put my mark on my productions.
It’s really hard for me to stay objective when I’m working on my own music and that’s why I like together with Richard West in the studio. Another what I like to do is to listen to totally different music than the type I’m working on and to make trips on my bicycle. Near my studio there is this lovely park where I like to make walks after a long day of recording. It’s just to empty my head.
So what are the biggest differences you’ve encountered in your work as a producer over the years?
The recording budgets are becoming tighter and tighter, so bands record more things themselves nowadays. There’s still a lot of work, but I’m doing more and more certain segments of the entire recording process. Sometimes I only receive some pre recorded parts by email and only the guitarist from a band comes along and record his parts at my studio. Something like that happened with the last Edenbridge album I produced. Sometimes I’m only get hired to mix an album and I don’t meet any band members at all. I like to meet the musicians I’m working with and I miss that. It makes things a tad more personal.
So what do you make of all the Protools and Autotune that are used nowadays to make albums sound good?
Well, only growls and screams are recorded au natural nowadays. Almost all the vocals are patched up with Autotune. It makes great vocalists sound even better and average vocalists sound good. However, true talent will always stand out in my opinion.
In my opinion autotune sucks the life out of any vocal performance. It may sound good, but it doesn’t have soul. Rihanna is good example in that regard..
Well, I wouldn’t mind having Rihanna record vocals at Thin Ice studios, haha. But yes, it does make sound things a little too perfect. I don’t mind using autotune and Protools to enhance the music though. I don’t mind pop music too. In fact, we use elements from pop music in Threshold, especially in the arrangements.
Time for the final question. What is your take on the current retro trend that plagues the prog scene?
It’s not really my type of music, but if people enjoy what they’re doing, it’s all good. I’d rather concentrate on creating new music. I’m in a progressive metal band and not in a regressive metal band.
I don’t understand why people on the Threshold ask us to play certain older albums as a whole, like Iron Maiden and Metallica tend to do. I perfectly understand why they do it. They’ve been around for such a long time and they really have a good time revisiting those older albums.
However, Threshold has still enough to say and like I said, I’d rather concentrate on writing and creating new music. This time around there won’t be a four year gap before a new Threshold album sees the light of day.