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Spock’s Beard: Octane

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“Octane”, as the name implies, is neo-proggers Spock’s Beard’s eighth album, and their second without former mainman Neil Morse. Their first Neil-less opus, 2003’s “Feel Euphoria“, proved that the band were far from being a spent force without him. Is Octane as good?

I think the answer has to be yes.

The first half of the album is made up from the seven-song suite “A Flash Before My Eyes”, a superb piece of work. The album opens with a swirl of Mellotron leading us into the classic SB wall of sound; the lengthy opening instumental forming an archetypal rock opera style overture. These seven songs cover the whole range of the Beard’s current sound, from atmospheric ballads and Floydian instrumentals though grindingly heavy guitar workouts to the symphonic closing section, “Into the Great Unknowable”. The closing instrumental theme, played on horns and backed by strings has to be the most memorable hook on the album (we’d previously heard it on piano, Mellotron and guitar). The guitar on ‘Surfing Down the Avalanche’ and ‘She is Everything’ is close to being the best I’ve heard from Alan Morse.

After “Flash”, the quality tails off a little in the second half of the album, with a couple of weaker songs teetering on the edge of being filler, although the instrumental ‘NWC’ and the hard-rocking closer ‘As Long as We Ride’ still deliver the goods.

In overall sound it’s maybe a little less ‘proggy’ and closer to mainstream rock; there’s not much in the way of complicated time changes, and no sign of off-the-wall quirky bits recalling Gentle Giant that we heard on their early albums. Neil Morse fans wanting to hear another “Beware of Darkness” will probably be disappointed.

It’s definitely one of those albums that gets better the more you listen to it. On the first few listens I thought the album was decidedly patchy. On repeated listens, although some of the later songs still fail to take off, the high points more than make up for the lows. Overall, a good album, not perhaps their best, but far from being the worst either.

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