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Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE 3 Award winner

Liquid Tension Experiment
by Eric Poulin at 31 March 2021, 9:34 AM

LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT is an instrumental progressive rock/metal supergroup based out of New York, New York in the United States, formed back in 1997. This is their third full-length album (first album in 22 years) entitled “Liquid Tension Experiment 3” released through Inside Out Music on April 16th, 2021. As you may know this supergroup contains former and present DREAM THEATER members (Mike Portnoy, John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess), along with a living legend on bass in Tony Levin. Now it has been 22 years since they released an album, the very eclectic and ambitious Liquid Tension Experiment 2, that I probably listened to a million times (almost as much as their first record). It is quite the challenge to review over an hour of instrumental music of this nature, that tends to go in a wide variety of creative directions, but there is also a lot of imagery, conveyed by their instruments, as we will see in the next few paragraphs.

We start off this progressive journey with “Hypersonic” that does not go into a lengthy introduction, it goes straight into a spectacle of technical wizardry, a combination of quick guitar notes accompanied by the parallel keyboard. This may make your head spin, as it is quite relentless in its chaotic nature and somehow there are melodies found in here. The chapman stick with the lower rhythm guitar section is a very nice touch, as both instruments mesh very well together. I remember when I used to listen to SPASTIC INK and this was a time machine, sending me back to when I listened to those wizards for the first time. Petrucci is also capable to add some beautiful ballad-like harmonies and they are included and majestically played in this song. The band even dive into some heavy blues and jazz portions at times, switching things up nicely. Some of the heavier parts are a throwback to “Black Clouds and Silver Linings” and some isolated psychedelic moments I have no significant reference to, as they are quite unique. I needed to take a deep breath after this one.

If you heard the second single entitled “Beating the Odds” it has one of the oddest simple, yet off tempo starts to any song I have ever heard John Petrucci play before (the band members have mentioned their experience with this riff as well and felt the same way I did hearing it the first time). The song is very up-tempo and joyful after the initial part. Now I have heard this from other fans, but there are some guitar parts that sound a lot like “In the Presence of Enemies”, especially the much heavier portions of this song. It is like this song has 2 different moods that play against each other (Steve Vai was always a master at doing that on his instrumental works). I am always amazed at how John Petrucci just keeps going and going like an energizer bunny, seemingly playing every note possible in a structured manner.

“Liquid Evolution” I would assume is a reference to how the band have managed to change and evolve their sound from 22 years ago. But these talented minds kept the essence of what has made this band so timeless, perfect improvisation. The trademark bass sounds at the start of the song immediately reminded me of their second record, as there is a song that follows a similar pattern. It is a slower song, very jazzy and mellow and plays more of a role of an interlude. It sounds like a cross between KING CRIMSON and JOE SATRIANI to be honest and is a great segue into the metal juggernaut that is “The Passage of Time” one that has a DREAM THEATER side to it and boy are the drums amazing on this one (I watched the playthrough video from Mike and it will have you sweating just watching it). This was the first song released as a teaser for the album and it really does not disappoint. Jordan Rudess gets to shine on this one and show his incredible classical music abilities (I have always loved that edge to this project). I cannot help but drift away into my subconscious mind when John goes into these dreamy passages. I loved this song the first time I heard it and still do now.

Looks like the guys decided to bring back two of their main characters from the first record in “Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey”. I still have no clue who these people are. Surely, they are not variations of Bill and Ted (hard to imagine they are still relevant in 2021), or maybe they are. Surely the band would clarify who these enigmatic men are, if we had the chance to ask them. All jokes aside, the song is more experimental than anything else so far and sounds like the improv jams the band would perform during their reunion tour. Some drum rolls combined with very odd noises coming from the guitars (and the bass I would assume).  It is like they were playing a violin, except they are using their traditional instruments and pretending it was one. This sounds like “Orion” on some heavy drugs, I have no other way to describe it. This one is not for the weak at heart I assure you (but quite shorter than “Three Minute Warning”).

After that wild experiment, we have some tapping on the chapman stick and David Bowie-like keyboard effects in “Rhapsody in Blue” which is about as eclectic as it gets, sometimes sounding like symphonic rock and at other times, soundtrack music from a cartoon strip. Somehow all this sounds like a cohesive unit, even when it goes into complex YES-like passages. It even manages to sound like TRANSATLANTIC at times in happy-go-lucky ways. The song goes into a whole other universe at the 4-minute mark, sounding more like David Gilmour, the long instrumental section from “Illumination Theory” mixed with “And You and I”. When the guitars come back, it really has a QUEEN effect to it, seemingly coming from another planet and right through the speakers. This song really is a mixed bag and uses some vintage tricks like bluesy guitars and hard rock reminiscent of DEEP PURPLE and LED ZEPPELIN. At times, you feel this this metallized circus music. This is also the longest track on the album (by 2 seconds) and is a lot to handle for a first-time listen. Even with the song going in 100 directions, it was an enjoyable ride.

“Shades of Hope” as I expected allows us to focus more on Jordan and John, adding and provoking a lot of emotions with their shared talents. As was the case with the previous LTE albums, we always have a little break to slow down, take our breath and appreciate the beautiful melodies these amazing musicians are capable of. It is hard to hold back tears listening to these songs, they really hit the right cords (literally and figuratively). Finally, we have the second epic and album closer “Key to the Imagination” that begins with another majestic keyboard introduction from the wizard himself. Tony Levin makes a strong impression on this one with some bombastic bass slapping and it is accompanied by some heavy grooves by Mr. Petrucci. There are some hints of “Octavarium” here I find in how the piano parts have an important role and the sound employed in the heavy guitars as well. There is a constant “grooviness” to the track that is highly contagious, and if you recall those duplicated keyboard/guitar parts in “In the Name of God”, there some of that flavor here too.

The expectations were high when you wait 22 years for one of your favorite projects to release something new and fresh, but not to sound like a cliché, but they exceeded the expectations for me. There are heavier riffs here, complex arrangements but also new things added to the compositions I never expected. The first 2 records are classics of high quality instrumental progressive music, but I can assure you this one will also be considered as one in 20 years. The best news is that we know there will be another album shortly after this one, so the wait will be a lot shorter this time around. Enjoy all my prog fans out there !

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 10
Memorability: 10
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. Hypersonic
2. Beating the Odds
3. Liquid Evolution
4. The Passage of Time
5. Chris & Kevin's Amazing Odyssey
6. Rhapsody in Blue
7. Shades of Hope
8. Key to the Imagination  
Tony Levin - Bass, Chapman Stick
Mike Portnoy - Drums
John Petrucci - Guitars
Jordan Rudess – Keyboards
Record Label: InsideOut Music


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Edited 18 April 2021

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