Released by Angelic Noise Records in mid-2011, “Living Water” is the debut album from Time Horizon, a Christian-oriented band hailing from Northern California. The album has apparently been in gestation for some time, featuring 10 songs written between 2005 and 2010. One of the tracks found here, “Life Fantastic”, may already be familiar to some listeners as it was previously featured on “CPR 3”, a 2008 compilation of Christian progressive rock which also featured artists such as Unitopia, Phil Keaggy and Mike Florio. During the recording of the album the band consisted of Ralph Otteson (keyboards / backing vocals), Bruce Gaetke (lead vocals, drums), David Dickerson (guitar), and Steve Gourley (bass) - though according the band's website, Dickerson and Gourley have since left the group.
To me, Time Horizon's music could best be described as being on the more tuneful, commercial side of the prog-rock spectrum - a mix of AOR hooks, dramatic prog-rock flourishes, thick vocal harmonies and overtly spiritual lyrics. The recording/production of a very professional caliber, and the band's musical chops are certainly not in question, with Otterson's majestic keyboards, in particular, often rising up to steal the show. They are also quite strong vocally, with Gaetke's warm, friendly mid-range voice used to great effect, as well as some sweet harmonies that should appeal to fans of Kansas and Boston.
As for the individual tracks, songs like “Life Fantastic”, “Age of Wonders” and “Paradise” set the tone for the album and nicely sum up what this band is all about. There is a definite undercurrent of Kansas/A.D./Kerry Livgren influence both musically an lyrically in these songs, as well as a few nods in the direction of other prog and AOR giants. In fact, another track here, the power-chord driven anthem “Feel the Change”, has a chorus so catchy that it could be a lost hit from the popular heyday of Kansas, Styx or Boston.
“Living Water” is equally catchy, built around a tribal drum rhythm and some tight group-vocal melodies which play in counterpoint with one another. It's the kind of song that I could imagine hearing on Christian radio (if Christian radio played better music), or perhaps in a Taize-style worship service.. There is also somewhat of a Worship-like quality to “Forgiveness”, a slow-burning ballad highlighted by a soaring guitar solo and some emotional vocals from Gretke.
“Time Horizon” is an unexpected four minute blast into Vangelis/Jarre territory, combining some beautifully layered new agey keyboard textures with vocorder-enhanced voices and ethereal lyrics. Another track that adds some variety is “Me Chili Caliente”, a flamenco-style instrumental showcase for guitarist Dave Dickerson. The piece is truly top-notch, with Dickerson seeming to channel the spirit of Steve Howe for one particular passage.
Last but not least, the 8 minute-plus “I Am Not Alone” is, for me, possibly the best track of the album. I love the way that the main ballad-like piano/vocal section leads the way to an instrumental break that kicks the tempo and intensity up a notch.- a perfect blending of the band's prog and pop sensibilities.
Time Horizon join a growing number of Christian artists in the prog-rock field today, including Ajalon, Iona, Neal Morse, & Peter Gee. Being a Mennonite and spiritually-inclined person myself, I'm quite pleased to find such creative musicians expressing their faith through their art (especially at a time when the mainstream 'Christian rock' scene leaves a lot to be desired.) However, I do understand why some non-Christians might be a bit standoffish about such overtly faith-oriented music, and a common question with these type of Christian rock albums seems to be, "will I still be able to relate to this if I'm not a Christian?"...Well, in the name of full-disclosure, Time Horizon is certainly very upfront and uncompromising in presenting their Christian message (with forgiveness, salvation and healing being recurring themes) and even the packaging makes the band's intentions loud and clear. These guys never hide behind vagaries and innuendo like many Christian rockers do. The lyrics of "Age of Wonders", for instance, ponder why some people question or deny the existence of God. But one line that casts such thinking as "insanely unaware" might be just a bit too pointed for non-believers...All things considered, I would say that Christians are really the prime audience for this album. But I think any fan of melodious, AOR-leaning prog should will find something to like here, even if they don't fully relate to the band's message.
All in all, this is a solid debut from a band that I hope to hear more of in the future. While listening to this CD multiple time in preparation for this review, It occurred to me that Time Horizon may just fill a musical void for those folks who don't care for the current trend towards heavier, darker music in the current prog-rock scene. The music here never gets much more headbanging than the rockier tracks of Boston or Styx - and that will be no-doubt be a big plus for listeners who don't necessarly enjoy prog-metal or '5,000-notes-per-second' guitar theatrics.
It's also good to see that this band has a social conscience!...Proceeds from the first 1,000 copies of the CD that are sold will be donated to Living Water International, a non-profit group dedicated to providing clean drinking water to needy countries where water is scarce. So you can support a good cause why also supporting new, independent music. More info on Living Water International can be found here.
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on September 9th, 2011