While listening to the opening track of the latest Hourglass album, you might think of another Dream Theater-clone. However, if you listen to the remainder of Oblivious To The Obvious you will discover that this American band from Utah has much more to offer. Hourglass proves that not all prog metal bands sound like the inventors of this musical style. The band integrates other influences and styles in their music the best possible way. This mixture of styles in combination with the fact that the band members are masters on their instrument lifts the music of Hourglass to a very high level. Besides, they never forget that melody is the most important factor.
New bass player Eric Blood gets all the room he needs to express his talents. His groovy and funky way of playing and the amazing bass lines give the band a style of its own. The name of Chris Squire (Yes) often came to my mind. Just as Chris Squire, Eric Blood is a real solo performer. Guitarist Brick Williams shows that he is gifted as well. His sound is awesome both on electric and acoustic guitar. He sometimes reminds me of John Petrucci (Dream Theater) and of Steve Lukather (Toto). Jerry Stenquist?s piano playing gives Hourglass? music a certain classical touch. His modern and innovative way of playing sounds like magic in my ears. Under the influence of drummer John Dunston the band changes paces very easy from fast to slow and vice versa in the same song. However, what is a band with excellent musicians without a great lead singer? Many bands don?t realize that a good singer is very important. Michael Turner is the perfect singer for Hourglass. His voice sounds a lot like the voice of Ted Leonard. If he might ever consider leaving Enchant, they just have to give Michael a call. While listening to the songs on Oblivious To The Obvious you get the idea that you have to deal with a concept album, but that?s not the case. However, some of the epic pieces have lyrical connections. A good example is the long title track. Sometimes it?s hard to listen to 140 minutes of music in a row. However, if the music is excellent and influenced by bands as Dream Theater, Enchant and Rush, it?s all worth wile. For me, Oblivious To The Obvious is a real musical journey. Therefore, I consider this album to be one of the best releases of 2009. Highly recommended!
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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Interview with Brick Williams of Hourglass
"Five years was a long time for our fans to wait for the new album"
(Text by Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen, pictures are from the Hourglass website)
I was deeply impressed by Oblivious To The Obvious, the latest release of the American band Hourglass. This excellent double album made more spins in my sound system than the latest Dream Theater release Black Clouds & Silver Linings. I asked guitarist Brick Williams to tell us a bit more about Hourglass.
Would you please give an introduction of the band’s background and the past album releases?Brick Williams: “We’ve been around for ten years now. In 2000, we released our debut album called This Lonely Time And Place, followed by The Journey Into in 2002. Next, we released Subconscious in 2004 and in 2009 our new double album Oblivious To The Obvious.
How would you describe your musical style?“I think that progressive metal is the most appropriate title, although there are many different musical elements in our music. Personally, I would say we lean a little more to the prog rock side, but we have a very diverse sound for sure.”
I heard influences from bands as Dream Theater and Enchant. Do you agree?“Well, first of all, Dream Theater are simply amazing and to be compared to them is always a great compliment. They are certainly influential on us as individual musicians, so you will obviously hear some of that style in Hourglass. Having said that, I think we have our own unique sound, especially with our new bass player Eric Blood. He brings a funky, groovy style to the band that Dream Theater doesn’t show.”
As far as Enchant is concerned, I’m the only member of Hourglass who listens to Enchant. A great band, I absolutely love them. Ted Leonard is an excellent singer and Doug Ott is an incredible guitarist. I love his guitar work and when I first heard Enchant, I was shocked how his style seemed to be in the same vein as my playing. I would say that Doug might be the guitarist whose style is the most similar to my style.
Many of the old school prog bands like Yes, ELP, Kansas, Rush, Jethro Tull and Genesis are also influential. We also have a Marillion or Pink Floyd vibe and metal bands like Megadeth and Iron Maiden are influential for us too.”
Have you been influenced by John Petrucci yourself? I saw you playing on the same kind of Ibanez guitar John has?“I’ve always loved Petrucci’s playing. The guy is just scary good. So yes, he has been a big influence. I have quite a few guitars, a couple of his Ibanez guitars as well as his Music Man model that I love. I have Eddie van Halen, Steve Lukather and Steve Vai guitars too. I buy guitars that fit my style and most importantly, guitars that sound and feel good.”
My personal favourite is Steve Lukather for as long as I can remember. I think his playing in Toto was just perfect. He always played so appropriately. Steve is a great musician, singer and guitarist. I wish I could sing like him. I’ve been influenced by so many guitarists, I can hardly keep track of them all though.”
Why is Oblivious To The Obvious released as a double album?“Well, we almost had an album finished back in 2006, but then we had some line-up changes and we decided to write a few more songs to go from there with the new members. We ended up with ten huge songs and it was obvious that one album couldn’t contain them all. We talked about releasing two separate albums about a year apart from each other, but ultimately we decided to release a double album, since all of the music just seemed to fit together in a cohesive style. To be honest, it just felt right and we were excited about the idea of having a double album to reward our fans who had been waiting since 2004 for new music.”
What does the album title mean? Does it have a concept?“I’ve been asked this same question a couple of times. The answer is no, the title is just a statement, a few words, that seem to fit with many of the lyrical ideas on the album. Each song stands alone, so there is no story connecting the songs together. There are some very long songs on the album and one is a five part epic. Of course, all five sections are linked together both lyrically and musically. The fact that some people regard it to be a concept album was another strong reason for us to have it released as a double album. The songs just seem connected and that is great, especially considering the length of the album.”
Will Hourglass perform the entire album live and have you thought of a DVD release of one of your live shows?“I’m not sure if we will play the entire album. That would leave us zero time for songs from previous albums. We have thrown the idea for a DVD around for a few years now. I’d love to see it happen at some point. Not sure when, but it would be a dream come true for me personally.”
The album has a beautiful cover that reminds me of the cover girl of Images & Words made by Dream Theater. Can you tell me something about it?“We tossed around several album cover ideas. We took a bunch of photos for it, but it just wasn’t working as well as we hoped. Therefore, we just let Rachel Dunston do whatever she felt inspired by. She is our drummer’s wife by the way. We went to band practice one day and Rachel almost had a new concept done that ended up being the cover. The girl on the cover was her creation, using photo shop, some stock photography and of course her imagination. I personally love how it turned out, so all credits to Rachel for the cover.”
Why has bass player Eric Blood such a big role in the music of Hourglass? His strong playing reminded me of the leading role Chris Squire has in Yes.“Well, Eric is such an incredible bass player that you have to let him shine. I would not ever want to restrict someone with that much talent, so Eric’s involvement with the music was huge. He plays very aggressively and his Victor Wooten -type style is unique in a prog metal band. I wanted to make sure we got a good mix on the bass and it worked out great. You can hear him playing so well, that it makes his parts very memorable. Chris Squire surely is an influence of Eric’s, because he is a big Yes-fan.”
How did people receive the album in the USA? Do you think your music is most of all made for the European market?“We definitely have many fans in Europe. About half of our album sales come from European countries. Forty per cent I’d say come from America and the rest cover the globe. Our musical direction is not that popular in America, but much more accepted in Europe. We have fans all over the globe though, so we feel lucky.”
On the cover of your second album Subconscious we see a spider in an hourglass. What does it mean?“That spider is a black widow and we thought the concept would be cool since black widows have an hourglass on their stomach. I expect that the spider will make an appearance on future Hourglass album covers or somewhere in the artwork.”
Do you have any plans to do live shows in Europe?“That is a dream that I hope come true. We would love to do that. I cannot say for sure or not, but if we can, we will. I think our music would go over great in Europe live.”
Do you think that you can become as big as for instance Dream Theater? Personally, I think your latest album is better than the latest DT-release.
What are the future plans of Hourglass?“Hopefully, we can perform some more live shows, especially in new places. I have some new material that I’ve been working on for Hourglass and I’d like to start working on a new album with the whole band soon. I have no idea how long it will take. We just write and when it’s done, it’s done. I’ve been writing some lyrics too, so time will tell where we go and what happens. I hope that there will be a new album within the next couple of years. Five years was a long time for our fans to wait for the new album. We will try to make it a shorter period of time for the next one.”
Thank you for answering my questions, Brick.“You’re welcome.”
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