Fans have been waiting for this one for a long time. Instrumental prog rock supergroup Liquid Tension Experiment’s last album LTE2 was released at the end of the twentieth century. For fans of progressive music, LTE1 and LTE2 stand as pivotal examples of musicianship. Additionally, those two albums were pretty much directly responsible for Jordan Rudess becoming a member of Dream Theater. The albums were two of the more virtuosic recordings of the 1990’s; will LTE3 live up to the hype?
For the most part, yes. All four musicians – Rudess on keyboards, Mike Portnoy on drums, John Petrucci on guitar, and Tony Levin on stick and bass – are still at the top of their game, and for nearly an hour they fill our ears with unmatched technical craftmanship. This might be the most self-indulgent hour you as a listener ever take part in, but it’s worth the ride.
“Hypersonic” comes out of the starting gate just as the title would suggest, a lightning-fast display of dexterity juxtaposed ingeniously by Levin’s stick work. The number of notes crammed into this eight-minute song is mind-blowing, and these guys pull it off in effortless fashion. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the humorously-titled “Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey” is a Levin/Portnoy duet that is trippy and enthralling, with both musicians exploring creative, almost minimalistic, soundscapes to maximum effect.
“Liquid Evolution” also diverges from the frequent “as many notes as possible” plotline. It is a short and intriguing song, with an airy, exotic feel to it, and is a wonderful change of pace from the longer, more rocking tracks that surround it such as “Beating the Odds” and “The Passage of Time.” The standout song just might be the closing number, “Key to the Imagination.” A soft, slow intro morphs into an absolutely destructive prog masterpiece. The song has everything one wants from a Liquid Tension Experiment epic: plenty of time changes, chord changes, solos, harmonies, groove, you name it.
All four musicians bring their own style to the proceedings, making LTE3 an album where the listener really must focus on one of them at a time all the way through to hear what’s going on. Portnoy is incredibly busy on the drums, almost too much so, but his fills are creative and his sense of groove masterful. While some may not take a liking to all of his choices in sounds, Rudess is a whiz on the keyboards, moving from dextrous solos to lush orchestrations impressively. Petrucci not only lays down amazingly intricate solos, he also drops some heavy, metallic riffs on us. And Levin’s fluidity and knack for coming up with creative counterpoints is a hidden gem on the album.
The weaknesses on LTE3 are relatively minor, and sure to be forgiven by ardent fans. An hour is a bit much here. “Rhapsody in Blue,” a reimagining of the Gershwin composition, drags as it progresses, and the short “Shades of Hope” Petrucci/Rudess duet is unmemorable. Rudess’s at times dated keyboard sound choices don’t always work out. Again, his fans will love it while detractors will wish for a bit more creativity in that department. These aren’t game-breaking issues by any stretch, though, and Liquid Tension Experiment more than make up for this in all other ways imaginable.
LTE3 hits the mark far more often than not, and in doing so satiate the thirst of fans of Liquid Tension Experiment as well as those of us who may be fans of individual musicians more than others. Each band member has a multitude of opportunities to shine and they all make the most of it. LTE3 sounds vital and full of energy, and is sure to perch itself near the top of 2021’s progressive music releases.
(released April 16, 2021 on InsideOut Music)
Heavy Music HQ Rating:
Watch Liquid Tension Experiment – “Hypersonic” Video