The Fall Of The Shires

Atomic Fire
rating icon 7.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. The Fall (Part 1)
02. Tormented
03. Public Safety Broadcast
04. This Is Not A Test
05. Storm Warning
06. Vertigo
07. Forests In The Fallout
08. The Fall (Part 2)

Everything works out in the end. After UK prog metal legends THRESHOLD released their career peak "Legends Of The Shires" album in 2017, keyboard player Richard West was already thinking about composing a sequel. As fate would have it, his bandmates had other ideas, leading to entirely different plans resulting in last year's superb release "Dividing Lines". Meanwhile, West had material for the sequel ready to go and, not unreasonably, felt it was a project worth pursuing, even outside of the THRESHOLD camp. Cue the birth of OBLIVION PROTOCOL, wherein West and new bandmates Ruud Jolie (WITHIN TEMPTATION, guitar),  Simon Andersson (DARKWATER, bass) and Darby Todd (DEVIN TOWNSEND, drums) continue to spin the conceptual thread started on "Legends…".

Still existing happily amid the lavish progressive metal of his day job, West has such a distinctive songwriting style that most of "The Fall Of The Shires" would have been perfectly fitting on a THRESHOLD record. But freed from the need for band democracy, his vision plays out here in a much more relaxed, free-flowing style. Arguably deeper into prog rock territory than its predecessor, this is as sonically pristine and classy as fans will be expecting, but with a slightly different overall vibe that bodes well for OBLIVION PROTOCOL's future efforts.

Picking up where "Legends…" left off, "The Fall Of The Shires" follows the story of the first album's chief protagonist, who over the course of these eight songs becomes king of the Shires, embarking on a course of tyranny and domination over his people. As a result, there is a dark, downbeat feel to much of this record, but with occasional glimmers of hope and an overall sumptuousness that belies the songs' tumultuous subject matter. The opening "The Fall (Part 1)" is a feast of dramatic strings and elegant exposition, and musically linked to the story's first chapter in the neatest, subtlest of ways.

From then on, "The Fall Of The Shires" is a beautifully paced adventure in languorous prog metal fashion with countless artful trimmings. West's voice is plainly not as powerful or punchy as THRESHOLD frontman Glyn Morgan's, and yet his gentler tone and reserved delivery fit the propulsive and atmospheric "Tormented" and infectious single "Forests In The Fallout" well enough, and work even more effectively on the indulgent likes of "This Is Not A Test" and the closing "The Fall (Part 2)" . Meanwhile, Ruud Jolie's lithe and lyrical soloing adds another layer of character to proceedings. That combination reaches an apex of brilliance on "Public Safety Broadcast": a solemn tale of protection and deception that twinkles and glows with DEPECHE MODE-like electronic ambience, while delivering a wonderfully catchy chorus and gritty metal riffing in abundance. Almost as good is "Vertigo", a noirish, futuristic ballad with a tender heart, sci-fi strings, faint echoes of art pop icons like PREFAB SPROUT and THE BLUE NILE and a lush radio-rock chorus.

This self-evident labor of love may not quite match up the sound of THRESHOLD at full pelt, but as a sophisticated adjunct to the main career drag, "The Fall Of The Shires" is hard to fault. Musically immaculate, melodically strong and lyrically absorbing, OBLIVION PROTOCOL's first outing is more than strong enough to pave the way for more flights of conceptual fancy in the future.

Author: Dom Lawson
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