1. Circuitry (6:16)
2. When the Walls are Down (7:29)
3. Dead City (5:15)
4. When She Dreams She Dreams in Color (13:40)
5. Rogue (24:04)
Matthew Parmenter – vocals, keyboards, descants
Jon Preston Bouda – guitars
Mathew Kennedy – bass
Paul Dzendzel – drums, percussion
In spite of its long-standing tradition as one of the music capitals of the US, Detroit is not exactly known as a hotbed progressive rock. However, Discipline have almost single-handedly put the city on the prog map. Since their inception in the late Eighties, and through the release of two albums – Push and Profit (1993) and the celebrated Unfolded Like Staircase (1997) – they have become one of the highest-rated acts on the US prog scene, where their powerful live shows earned them five consecutive appearances at Progday, from 1995 to 1999. At the beginning of the new century, the band folded, though frontman Matthew Parmenter went on to release two solo albums, and three live recordings were also released between 2000 and 2005. Discipline made their official comeback at the 2008 edition of NEARfest, Three years later, To Shatter All Accord, their highly awaited third studio album (the first in 14 years), came out in the autumn of 2011 on the band’s own label, Strung Out Records.
Though often mislabeled as “neo-prog”, with the theatrical approach of keyboardist/vocalist Matthew Parmenter (aka Magic Acid Mime) drawing comparisons to the likes of Fish and Peter Gabriel, Discipline’s darkly intense musical and lyrical approach has more in common with Van Der Graaf Generator than with Marillion and their ilk. In spite of the lengthy pause between studio recordings, having kept the same lineup for over 20 years (no mean feat in itself) has allowed them to hone their distinctive sound, which runs the gamut from brooding harshness to soothing, almost pastoral melody.
While Parmenter’s dramatic vocals and tortured lyrics provide the main focus of attention, they are only one of the factors that make Discipline’s music so riveting. In fact, Parmenter’s voice often works as an additional instrument, and complements the other instruments instead of overwhelming them (as it is occasionally the case with Peter Hammill’s vocals in VDGG). Discipline handle the frequent transitions in the fabric of their songs with seamless skill, avoiding the lack of cohesion that often mars the most ambitious prog productions, and the dramatic quality inherent to their music is conveyed so as to enhance the emotional content without becoming jarring or bombastic.
Out of the five tracks featured on To Shatter All Accord, the first two date back from the mid-Nineties, and will be familiar to those who have followed Discipline’s live career. Both songs were included in the double CD set Live Days (2010), as well as in the DVD Live 1995 (released in 2005). The hard-edged mid-tempo of “Circuitry” opens the album with a bang: forceful organ introduces Parmenter’s intense vocals, which bookend a magnificent instrumental section where piano, sax, organ and finally Jon Preston Bouda’s incisive guitar solo take turns in the spotlight. “When the Walls Are Down” hinges on superb interplay between Bouda’s guitar and Parmenter’s voice, in turns pleading and sneering; then sax and guitar engage in an exhilarating duel until the end of the song. Strategically placed in the middle of the album, “Dead City” introduces Discipline’s new material on a deceptively upbeat note. The distorted guitar and spacey-industrial electronics at the opening of the song are offset by a melodic guitar solo in the bridge, while a snippet of a radio broadcast announcing a zombie invasion is tagged at the end as a wry commentary on the lyrics.
The band, however, pull out all the stops for the last two tracks, which make up more than two-thirds of the 56-minute album. “When She Dreams She Dreams in Color” starts out in an understated manner, with a lilting pace that brings to mind a tango with jazzy undertones, supported by Paul Dzendzel and Mathew Kennedy’s impeccable rhythm section. Almost theatrical bursts of intensity, driven by vocals and sax, are followed by moments of quiet, leading to a spectacular finale in which Parmenter’s hauntingly lyrical violin, backed by solemn guitar and drums, evokes shades of King Crimson’s “Starless”. The 24-minute “Rogue” is a textbook example of how to write an epic that never outstays its welcome. With plenty of mood and tempo changes, yet remarkably cohesive, it is a harrowing existentialist tale in 10 scenes – almost like a 21st century take on VDGG’s “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”- that might have resulted in an overblown mess, but is instead deeply involving. Parmenter’s vocal tour-de-force (complete with disturbing shrieks) enhances the stunning instrumental texture, made of powerful organ runs, tensely atmospheric interludes and dazzling guitar solos, full of melody and emotion, which relieve the intensity of the crescendo-like passages.
Though its release date, almost at the tail end of 2011 – a year noted for its many high-profile releases – has kept the album out of many “best of” lists, there is no doubt that To Shatter All Accord fully deserves to be mentioned alongside those albums that have drawn critical attention in the past year. Though not substantially different from its predecessors, it showcases a band that embodies the best of traditional prog without sounding either dated or derivative, and that seems to have gained polish and maturity in spite of the many years of inactivity. To Shatter All Accord is one of those rare efforts will potentially appeal to prog fans of every stripe, and marks a triumphant return to form for one of the top acts of the US scene.