Big Hairy Monster!
(All Album Reviews by Big Hairy Monster!)
When I had first heard of this Connecticut group, I was told, "If you like Rush, you will like Crucible."
Now as someone who loved Rush (but who has lost a lot of respect for them over the last few albums), the comment above left me a little unsure as to how I would feel about picking up Tall Tales...Crucible's debut, and as far as I know, only recording. Several months later, I decided to take the chance. It was not what I was expecting.
To me, the only thing in Crucible's sound that even remotely reminds me of Rush is vocalist Bill Esposito. A comparison could be made to Geddy Lee by some, but this isn't the case for me...I think he sounds a lot more like Rik Emmitt of Triumph. He has a more full-bodied voice than either singer, and never results to the shrieking that leads many listeners to avoid Rush and Triumph. Musically, they are far different from these bands as well.
Crucible borrows heavily from the classic period of symph prog, and contains mostly elements of Genesis. The leadoff track, "Over The Falls" displays this style, with hints of early IQ and Echolyn. "The Poet Liar" has a Genesis / Jethro Tull vibe that I like, and has a very nice flute passage. "Find The Line" seems a little more in the Rush vein, but primarily due to the guitar chordings...it reminds me of something from A Farewell To Kings. That is until the electric Rhodes piano kicks in, where I hear almost a Steeley Dan feel.
"Lords and Leaches" is a great 11:30-minute song that conjures images of a subdued Kansas, circa Point Of Know Return. An instrumental passage approximately 3 minutes into the song features appropriate (and again subdued) mellotron, mini-Moog, and Hammond. It is the subtlety of not only this song, but the entire album, that really impresses me. These are musicians that obviously know what they are doing, but are restrained doing it. There are no ego-tripping five-minute solos at the expense of the songs. Just well constructed classic prog, with classic lyrics...Esposito is quite the story teller.
"In Ancient Tongue" is an acoustic guitar based instrumental piece that is reminiscent of Gentle Giants subtler moments, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin's "Bron-Yr-Aur". "The Salamander" is the one song where Esposito gets close to Geddy Lee territory with his vocals. This is my least favorite song on the album, and the guitar is mixed way back. This is an interesting point. The whole recording is well mixed, but I get the feeling that it just doesn't have a real punch to it. The guitars are never real forward in the mix, which to a degree takes away from the power of the group. I can imagine that this is one of those groups that seem tame on disc, but explode live.
"Land For Sale" is a pleasant tune in a pseudo-Genesis mold. Nicely put together, particularly the drummers use of subtle percussion and his restraint. "An Imp's Tale" is a 22-minute multi-part suite which is surely the masterpiece of this disc. The first minute of the song reminds me of Starcastle for some odd reason, before venturing through a variety of moods and textures. A wonderful song in every respect.
I am unsure why this disc and band never get discussed on PE. Perhaps the reason is Tall Tales treads water dangerously close to its influences...and while some might find this to be ripping off the giants, I personally don't mind it...it never really becomes cloning.
I find Tall Tales to be a very interesting recording that deserves a wider audience. It is very well constructed with very little filler, the players play for the songs instead of for themselves, and there is a level of musicianship here that should appeal to many of the local PE yocals. And aside from small misgivings about the overall mix, and the fact that it did take me a while to warm to this recording, I find very little to be unhappy with.
In short, I am glad I took a chance on this one.