Hailing from Spain, The Third Grade are a symphonic prog-metal outfit who incorporate influences from the likes of early Genesis, Dream Theater and Therion to craft a sound that is complex, dynamic and beguiling. Their latest work, the ‘Of Fire and Ashes Pt. 1’ EP comprises a mere two tracks (plus a radio edit) and yet still manages to clock in at an impressive twenty-eight minutes.
The EP opens with ‘Ice’ (which returns in edited form later), a complex, heaving track that takes the listener through a number of dynamic shifts before arriving at the vocals well over a minute into the piece. Maria Cobos has a fine voice that perfectly matches the rich, symphonic sweep of the music whilst both guitarist Jose Masia and bassist Daniel Castillo do an able job of providing backing vocals. The final piece of the puzzle is drummer Rodrigo Puche, who displays rare ability as he keeps pace with the dextrous changes instigated by Jose and Daniel. It is an ambitious sound that the band make, and it will certainly appeal to fans of Nightwish’s more progressive workouts as well as Dream Theater. The second track, ‘changes’ is an absolute monster, clocking in at around fifteen minutes in length. Another track that seems well placed to display the band’s impressive musicality, it suffers a little from a synth patch that is so firmly rooted in the hard rock of the eighties that it sounds like it was sampled directly from Europe. That eighties vibe persists as the track progresses and, as the vocals appear, elements of ‘Momentary lapse of Reason’ are brought to mind, making the deathly elements of the chorus all the more incongruous. I can imagine this track sounding absolutely huge in the live environment, but the production here does the piece few favours, and the band would benefit from a thicker, more contemporary sound to make their fascinating compositions really shine. As the track ebbs and flows, it incorporates elements that range all the way from the deathly to the flamenco, frequently making the listener question quite how they arrived at a given spot, albeit glad that they did. It’s whimsical in the vein of vintage Genesis and, despite the disparate nature of the genres the band weave together, nothing ever sounds out of place. Indeed, the whole song is a truly remarkable journey that prog. fans will simply love to lose themselves in. The EP concludes with the radio edit of ‘ice’, which will please fans, but which feels a touch redundant to the casual listener.
This is my first experience of The Third Grade and it is, overall, an impressive one. The band are most certainly talented musicians and their musicality and arrangement skills are to be applauded. The production, on the other hand, whilst not bad, simply does not give the music the punch and sparkle it needs. I would certainly recommend the EP, but I would dearly love to hear the band employ a beefier production on future efforts, as it would really bring out the twists and turns of the band’s multifaceted music. 7
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