Atom Works – The Life Of Spice (Absolute Label Services)

Replete with a sprawling soundscape and multiple themes in the finest traditions of the classic concept album, the majority of The Life Of Spice’s underlying story is set on a train. Think Murder On The Orient Express set to Operation: Mindcrime. Or Thomas The Tank Engine soundtracked by Steve Hogarth-era Marillion. There’s never been anything quite like it.

The uniqueness of Atom Works’ carefully crafted long player – the record was 12 months in the making – should be its strength. And yet the Finnish band’s progressive rock masterpiece actually suffers from an obvious lack of…progression. If producer, engineer and co-founder Niklas Finnäs was the man with the plan then it feels as if his fellow musicians didn’t always grasp the end game.

Make no mistake, The Life Of Spice is a melting pot of expert musicianship, boundless creative ambition and technical wizardry. But whether the story is over-complicated or the compositions overly outlandish, there’s a frustrating disconnect from song to song. The concept is key but it’s not always crystal clear.

Atom Works might argue an air of mystery is paramount. Finnäs and his band mates might have envisioned nine disparate chapters of a grandiose epic rather than nine clearly connected songs tightly knitting a together a gripping tale. But even in the world of progressive rock less can occasionally be more and there are times when this record would benefit from a streamlined reboot. The Dream Theater-meets-Iron Maiden bombast of The High And The Dry is a rambling case in point.

At the very least The Life Of Spice requires a serious investment of time – whether to soak up the often sensational sounds or delve deep into the cerebral lyrical content. Commit and the rewards could be considerable.