Is 22 years enough time? To think that the gap between Liquid Tension Experiment studio albums 2 and 3 is old enough to go out for drinks here in the U.S. is incredible. And let me say, the stuff on their third album is truly intoxicating. John Petrucci is still finding new ways to make magic on the guitar; Mike Portnoy brings the same energy and enthusiasm he has brought for decades into countless musical projects; Jordan Rudess shows us that his chops and instincts on the keys remain blistering and precise; and Tony Levin reminds us all that he is a chameleon, blending with almost anything thrown at him with his bass and chapman stick skills. Liquid Tension Experiment is a supergroup from the beginning, and no lesser word shall describe them.
So, how do you kick things off after almost 22 years of waiting? Well, to these guys, it seemed like they could do one thing: just push play. “Hypersonic,” the third single, bombards us with a shred-fest in seven that made even my static fingers tired. Though, it should be noted that this song is not just seven minutes of notes flying at a million miles an hour; the song can be cut up into four distinct parts, with soulful solo exchanges by both Petrucci and Rudess, and drum-chapman stick grooves that serve as a relative breath of fresh air. And hey, there is a vocal nugget toward the end!
The second track and single, “Beating the Odds” takes on a more traditionally structured approach, with set verses, a chorus that repeats a few times throughout, and a solo-infested bridge section. The heavy rocker might remind you of your favorite synth-driven rock from the ‘70s, such as Styx, while maintaining an edge reminiscent of Van Halen and Steve Vai. Before the third chorus, there is one of those synchronized runs, brought to us by John and Jordan, only to lead us into a solo afterward, which fades out to the peculiar third track.
For the uninitiated, Liquid Tension Experiment tend to jam out many of their ideas, usually in a short amount of time. Some of these ideas blossom into intricate compositions, such as the first two tracks on the album, whereas others might turn into something freer. One of these tracks is “Liquid Evolution” (maybe you might find a connection to a similarly named song on their second album), which gives “Liquid” Levin an opportunity to show off the bottom end for us listeners. Portnoy’s percussion on this track is also notable, utilizing instruments and rhythms that you will not hear in most of his other stuff.
I still feel there was no better song than “The Passage of Time” to release as the first single for this album. This is the first song that the four gentlemen wrote when they quarantined together in July of 2020, and it is fitting that this turned into one of the most memorable tracks of the bunch. Weirdly enough, it almost feels like a huge prog-metal epic served to us in just over seven minutes; everyone’s personality is in full display in this song. This is one of the songs to show people who are just getting into 21st century progressive rock/metal.
After all we have heard from the first four tracks, something out of the ordinary was bound to happen—enter “Chris and Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey.” A follow-up to “Chris and Kevin’s Excellent Adventure” from Liquid Tension Experiment, and “Chris and Kevin’s Bogus Journey” from Spontaneous Combustion (by Liquid Tension Trio, with Rudess, Levin, and Portnoy), it carries on the tradition of duets between bassist Tony Levin and Mike Portnoy. With no distinct melody or rhythm in the first half, this avant-garde duet is like going to the dentist’s office… but like, a cool dentist’s office. If you have any idea what Portnoy and Levin used to give us with their duets, you might have an idea of how this one will sound.
On the next track, Liquid Tension Experiment decided to try something new: a cover track. What is not new, however, is that they have been playing this track together as a group for almost fifteen years, having performed it during their 2008 run of shows. “Rhapsody in Blue,” originally composed by George Gershwin almost a century ago in 1924, is described as the “meticulously arranged cover” of the album, and it really does highlight the genius of the original piece, while adding in many elements that are uniquely LTE. Petrucci’s use of wah and phaser really brightens up the sound, along with Rudess’ endless line of keyboard effects that both mimic the instruments of the early 20th century and transcend to the future. Any fans of Native Construct will really enjoy the craziness LTE dishes out in this track.
The second duet of the album was recorded in one take between Petrucci and Rudess, and it seems fitting that the composers of The Astonishing put together a ballad perfect for a musical. Keep your ears open, because you may catch a familiar Petrucci lick in this one; try to see what Dream Theater song I am talking about.
The final track of the album is a roller coaster and is chock-full of memorable LTE melodies and riffs. The mellow intro of “Key to the Imagination” is a showcase of Rudess’ ability to dance with chord progressions, with Petrucci building on a hook for a solo; this gets you ready for the onslaught to come. When the full band comes in, it is absolute groove central with some really saturated bass and juicy 7-string guitar. It definitely grabs your attention, but I personally love when it dives right back into Petrucci’s solo from the beginning—this time with a rhythm section driven by the hi-hat-happy Portnoy. From there, the song does take on a jam-vibe, with Petrucci and Rudess trading lead lines and solos, and referring back to the main riff on several occasions. To top it all off, what better way to end than a signature Petrucci solo? Some things just never change.
For all of those who have been waiting decades for the new Liquid Tension Experiment album, buckle your seatbelts—the boys delivered us another instrumental album for the ages.
Liquid Tension Experiment 3 will be released April 16, 2021 through InsideOut Music. Pre-order it here.