The Great Divide
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Released June 1, 1999
In this verdant, vibrant age of progressive metal, it's quite the treat to hear a band stride confidently forth with more of a nimble, traditionally progressive rock approach, Ice Age thenceforth advancing past the masters, into often overlooked tones from bands like Styx, Kansas, Saga, even Journey.
For this is a band steeped in Americana, but flavored with worldly spice, most of it contributed by the band's Euro-tinged guitarist Jimmy Pappas, who is actually a transplanted American from Greece. Rounding out the band, we've got Arron DiCesare, a native Bostonian who has studied at his city's venerable music school, the Berklee College Of Music, ex-Cold Steel drummer Hal Aponte, and the band's lead vocalist, keyboardist and lyricist Josh Pincus. While the daunting chops wizardy of DiCesare and Aponte provide a rockbed of exotic and mathematical rhythm experiences, Pappas and Pincus create a marriage, and often a productive tension, between those age old rivals, keyboards and guitars.
"I think it's our varied backgrounds that create the unique flavors in this band", offers Josh. "Jimmy is actually from Europe, so he grew up listening to guys like Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, Michael Schenker, Gary Moore. My thing early on was straight classical and film score music oddly enough, followed by Rush, Styx and Kansas, and then when I got a little older, I got into a heavier music like Fates Warning, King's X and Black Sabbath."
But it is this American progressive experience that seems to course through Ice Age's debut offering The Great Divide, a set of precepts that sets the band apart from its darker, faster and faster still competitors. "It's definitely heavy progressive, definitely on the technical side," explains Pincus. "But we like to focus a bit more on the songwriting side of things versus some of the other well-known progressive bands. We like to keep it melodic and have memorable hooks as opposed to playing a mile a minute constantly. We like to mix it up."
What enforces this unique directive is first and foremost the vocal work of Pincus, which is often compared to Steve Walsh and Tommy Shaw. It is Josh's flair for the dramatic delivery that has turned jaded progressive fans into believers as the band hits the tough New York City circuit. Underneath the man's thespian command, one finds a coterie of keyboard sounds, from the graceful piano balladry of 'One Look Away', to surprising ELP-like synthesizer tones rarely heard in any progressive genre today. The pinnacle of the band's rock theatre comes within the gritty force of 'The Bottom Line', a track that pounds home the indifference of the bottom line towards the lives of those affected by it. One can envision this as a Broadway highlight . . . the lights, the actors, the sets.
All the while, expect some of the most exacting, exhilarating, complex, but accessible riffing to be carrying the tune, over a rhythm section that is fully in control despite the dangerous playing demanded by the record's ten tracks. It is of note that although many progressive bands claim Dream Theater as an influence or inspiration, Ice Age are one act who actually approach Labrie and Co.'s sense of sculpture, in no small part due to the myriad of sounds we hear from drummer Aponte, although it is Pincus who has the biggest personal connection, having grown up friends with Dream Theater's original keyboardist Kevin Moore.
So The Great Divide has finally arrived, the endwork of a process Pincus describes as exhausting. "As far as writing goes, it's pretty straightforward. We work quickly because we all know each other pretty well, having played together for what seems like ages. You get into little arguments during mixing or whatever, because that's just the nature of the thing. Are the guitars loud enough? Are the vocals loud enough? Is this lead loud enough here, is it loud enough there? It actually turned out to be a lot of work because we did all the recording and mixing ourselves. We put together our own studio, so it was the whole thing from soup to nuts on our own. It got crazy at times. We set all this up in the rehearsal space that we rent, and we have 24 hour access, so we'd work whenever we had to, in the middle of the night, whatever."
If Ice Age's music has gracefully recaptured the splendor of the progressive age, it is lyrically that the band really shines, which is no mean feat given Josh's methodology. "I have piles and piles of scribbled lyrics everywhere," sighs Josh. "My computer is full of unused ideas. The way I usually do it is that I let the ideas brew for a couple of months, and then when it's getting close to the time when I actually have to do the track, I just sit in front of the computer screen for like 24 or 48 hours and piece the words together. A lot of the time I write about psychological issues. Much of it is very personal, almost dangerously so, but I hope I reach some universal themes. I try to write about life experiences and relate them to things other people can use."
And although not a concept album as such, Josh's line of thought throughout had to do with The Great Divide between childhood innocence and the pressures of adulthood. "The first song, 'Perpetual Child', sort of sets the tone for the album. Musically, I think it's a good mix. It has some really heavy driving parts, countered by nice mellow passages. It kind of shows off our dynamics, the different sides of the band, from very heavy to very mellow and everything in between. Lyrically, it's about the transition between being an innocent wide-eyed child into the cynical world of adulthood. That's basically what it's about. The character has to figure out how to do that, or if he wants to do that. I think everybody has part of that in them, searching for their lost childhood to some extent. I know I certainly feel that way, but I'd hate to speak for the other guys (laughs). The title and the cover art also enforce this concept. The cover image was actually designed by our guitarist, Jimmy, who does a lot of graphics work. It's really tough to describe (laughs). It depicts a sort of a hunched-over figure crossing a strange looking bridge. It's pretty provocative and eye-catching. And the meaning of it could be left to the viewer. This person is crossing a bridge and you don't really know where he's going."
But if The Great Divide is any indication of things to come, it is perfectly obvious where Ice Age is going, and that would be firmly into the millennium as one of the foreground figures in traditional progressive music, unafraid to use rip-it-up metalized riffing, but more likely to build a deceptively accessible melody through layers of detail-obsessed construction. It is obvious that a breath-taking amount of work has gone into the making of this strong debut. Considerable study, although less so, on the part of the listener will ensure the level of reward the band has intended. On that note, it's time to break the ice.
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The Great Divide
Catalog # : MA-9028-2