Founded by guitarist Karl Groom in southern England in 1988, Threshold were a unique proposition from the start. Driven forward by youthful confidence and verve, they swiftly became the UK’s premier purveyors of adventurous and progressive metal and have remained at the top of that tree for the best part of three decades. From early albums like Wounded Land (1993) and Psychedelicatessen (1994) through to more recent triumphs like 2014’s acclaimed For The Journey, the band’s reputation has been built upon the sheer strength of their songwriting, collective chemistry and fervent disregard for following passing trends. As a result, in 2017, Threshold are as revered and respected as they have ever been.
But nothing runs smoothly, even in the virtuoso world of prog metal, and as the band approached the making of their 11th studio album, they parted ways with Damian Wilson – vocalist with THRESHOLD on three separate occasions, including the last decade of the band’s career. Considering the tragic loss of another former vocalist, Andrew ‘Mac’ MacDermott, who sadly passed away in 2011, Threshold have not had the greatest of fortune when it comes to retaining their vocalists and, arguably, a lesser band would have crumbled in the face of a potentially damaging line-up shuffle, but as keyboardist and Groom’s songwriting comrade Richard West explains, there was one obvious solution to this latest setback: for their brand new album, Legends Of The Shires, Threshold – completed by drummer Johanne James and bassist Steve Anderson – are welcoming former singer Glynn Morgan back into the fold, for the first time since fan-favourite full-length Psychedelicatessen in 1994.
“We just didn’t want to go with a new singer, so Glynn was the only man on our list,” notes Richard. “We were very, very grateful that he was willing! We did work with him again in 2008, when we went back to the studio to re-record some old tracks for a compilation we were doing. Then I worked with him again in 2012 with my other band League Of Lights. So the contact was always there and I was very much aware that he was always excited by the thought of another shot at Threshold, so I figured that if we asked him, he’d say yes. We didn’t want to bring anyone new into the family. It’s a big enough family already, after 25 odd years… so it was nice to go back to him. And he’s got such an amazing voice, it’s been beautiful working with him again.”
“I’ve always been a fan of the band,” says Glynn. “We never had a major fallout! (laughs) I was just a fan, keeping up to date, and I think Karl and Richard’s songwriting, they’re a great team and it’s all good stuff. So when I got the call, how could I say no? I’m very excited but I’m also very grounded. Damian was a great singer, I’ve met him and Mac a couple of times. Mac once saved me from an overzealous security guard at Wacken! (laughs) But all I can do is my best. I’ve given my best on the album and I’ll do exactly the same at the live shows.”
Fortunately for all concerned, Karl and Richard had begun writing new material for the next Threshold album long before they found themselves in need of a new recruit. The results of what must surely be the most productive chapter in Threshold history are showcased with glorious finesse and bombastic exuberance on Legends Of The Shires, a colossal double album full of the most vivid, vivacious and supremely confident music that the band have ever recorded. In contrast to the more straight-ahead heaviness and traditional structures of 2014’s For The Journey, the new album is an admirable exercise in flexing creative muscles and revelling in exploratory flair. It also feels very much like the start of a new era in Threshold’s illustrious story.
“We never really thought about starting a new chapter because we loved what we did on the last two albums,” says Richard. “But we felt that For The Journey was maybe a little less complex and with a little less depth than some of our previous works. Looking back through our catalogue, we’ve gone much deeper and we’ve been much more progressive. So what we learned from For The Journey was that we wanted to go more progressive again, and once we made that decision, the floodgates opened musically and we were off. Soon we had so much material that we realised it was going to have to be a double album.”
“When I heard the new material, I was blown away,” adds Glynn. “All I’ve ever wanted to achieve with my own music is to make things raw and heavy but with big melodies. I think you can have melody over the top of brutal guitars, and this album blew me away with the heaviness and the catchiness of the hooks. Some of the tracks, the keyboard work and the guitar work, it’s among the best stuff the band have ever done. It’s a double album and it really does represent a new chapter. We’re all excited and I just hope the fans love it as well. I’m just proud to be a part of this.”
83 minutes in length and yet remorselessly absorbing, Legends Of The Shires is a towering achievement and very obviously the most ambitious and progressive record that Threshold have made to date. Although it is a sprawling, multi-layered concept album, it still contains all the irresistible refrains, soaring choruses and moments of balls-out metal intensity that long-time fans will be expecting, but this time there are countless hidden depths to be delved into and a huge number of unexpected musical twists and turns to keep listeners glued to their speakers.
From the devastating catchiness and sturdy riffing of second single Small Dark Lines and soul-scorching anthem Stars And Satellites through to the labyrinthine opulence of ultra-prog epics The Man Who Saw Through Time and Lost In Translation, it’s an album that cranks every aspect of Threshold’s music up a few notches while beautifully refining their brilliance as songwriters and musicians. Fans will have to wait until the album is released to fully dive into the new album’s sumptuous sonic depths and epic narrative, but as the band themselves state: “Legends Of The Shires is a concept album about a nation trying to find its place in the world. It could also be about a person trying to do much the same thing.”
“I don’t want to give too much away about the story itself,” Richard notes. “It’s like when you watch a movie preview and they tell you the entire story in three minutes. With music, you don’t want it to be as one-dimensional as some movies are. You want to provide space for people to put themselves in the story, so I don’t want to say much more! But when it’s a story, it just flows. Every song doesn’t have to have a unique complex subject – it can just be part of the story. I feel young again in my writing, which is really cool. I got into prog rock when I was at school and I remember daydreaming about making records like this. It’s exciting to be writing prog rock concept albums!”
With Glynn Morgan stamping his vocal authority all over the new album, it seems that the magical chemistry that has always been a major part of Threshold’s appeal has already started to fizz and flicker around the band’s freshly retooled line-up. The release of Legends Of The Shires will be followed by a sustained flurry of live shows, as Glynn returns to the stage with his old compadres and takes the many-splendored delights of the new album to the masses, not to mention some choice cuts from Psychedelicatessen, the album that first brought Glynn’s incredible voice to our attention. As far as Richard West is concerned, the future for these dogged veterans has never seemed brighter. The legend continues…
“We had a great ten years with the previous line-up and we have some great memories of it. But we’re entering a new chapter and we’re looking forward to making some new memories,” he concludes. “We’re looking forward to taking it onto the road and seeing what this new family feels like. The nicest thing I found was how warm and friendly everything has been. It’s wonderful that we have a fresh start and we’re all loving being a part of Threshold right now.”