Mike Portnoy is a busy man, especially since he left Dream Theater. Whether it’s Adrenaline Mob, Transatlantic, The Winery Dogs, PSMS, Flying Colours, his current main project Sons Of Apollo or one of a handful of tribute bands, Portnoy always finds a way to keep himself occupied. The most notable of his side ventures that we haven’t heard from in quite some time is Liquid Tension Experiment, with whom he released two albums in the late ‘90s, disbanded and reunited with in 2008, then did the same and recently reconvened for their third studio instalment (not counting the Liquid Trio Experiment album Spontaneous Combustion sans Jordan Rudess in 2007).
Simply titled LTE3, the nearly 2-hour album promises on the surface to be loaded with all the dramatic proggy tangents and technical goodies one would expect from LTE. That’s the preface, and that’s what we get in the beginning with the lacer-precise time-signature switching mania of “Hypersonic”. The clean, melodic “Beating The Odds” could easily be inserted into the background of a Mario Kart level, showcasing John Petrucci at his finest along with the comparatively brief (and soulful) “Liquid Evolution”. “The Passage of Time” showcases even more masterful guitar work, offset by the sluggish drums-and-bass interlude “Chris & Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey”. “Rhapsody in Blue” snaps back into standard-by-LTE-standards LTE with all manner of twists, turns and tempo shifts, then drops the drums for a glorious Petrucci/Rudess feature on “Shades of Hope”.
“Key to the Imagination” starts on a similar level of restraint as “Shades”; ultimately blowing open into another full-fledged prog jam, starting first with chugging riffs and working its way up to a great dynamic variance. “Blink of an Eye” provides a nice reprieve, sounding like a combination of Kenny Garrett’s “Sing A Song Of Song” on the jazz fusion end and the stringy section on Whitesnake’s “Still Of The Night” (otherwise known as the silhouette section) as far as metal goes. “Solid Resolution Theory” and “View from the Mountaintop” keep up the carefully layered chillness, dynamically separating the second half of LTE3 from its far more active first half (though “View” starts to pick up in the midst of Petrucci’s solo). “Your Beard Is Good” continues the re-energization and provides some thick bass work from Tony Levin, who only gets groovier and arguably defines the track the most on the slow reggae closer “Ya Mon”. From its laid-back beginning, the track predictably turns from jammin’ to jammin’ and ends in a spacey free-fall, as no record of a group like this could simply recline and fade away quietly.
With such quality musicianship, it’s hard to think of any glaring musical flaw that could and should be improved on with LTE3; honestly it’s just good to hear Liquid Tension Experiment again. There’s a good balance between balls-out and lay-back that could debatably be more scattered around the tracklist rather than concentrated in one half of the record or the other; but the rock half/chill half model definitely works in LTE’s favour here. Everyone involved is well into middle age and hasn’t rusted a bit; not everyone has the stomach or ability to do as many different collaborative projects as Portnoy and co. do but doing so certainly keeps you sharp. When you play on this level, you can’t be anything but, and with their third album, LTE satisfactorily delivered the goods.