Threefold Maze is an indie progressive metal/hard rock band based in Fort Worth, Texas. Formed by long-time friends Doug Whittenberg and Mike Smith, who originally called their fledgling band Aura Caelestis, they released a respectable self-titled album in 2010. Moving forward, as they state in their bio: “it was decided that the next album needed more production, better gear, and a much better name.” After an exhaustive name search, they decided upon Threefold Maze, and spent several years writing and recording songs for their debut album Dollar of Dust. Regarding the album title, Mike explained that it’s “the approximate value of all the stuff in the human body – if dried up. Kinda morbid but sounded cool.” Indeed it does!
Dollar of Dust was released in July 2016, and it’s an ambitious work containing 12 tracks and running an hour in length. Both Doug and Mike played guitar and keyboards on the album and Doug also played bass and provided the lead vocals, while Mike sang backup. Doug’s son Derek Whittenberg was recruited to play drums, and Caitlin Smith provided guest vocals on some of the tracks. The album was self-produced by Threefold Maze, and mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios in Helsinki, Finland. The band chose Mika based on his work with other bands that fall into the same genre, and the wide-open dynamic sound he delivered that they wanted for Dollar of Dust.
I’ve given the album multiple listens and discover another melody, lyric or instrumental nuance each and every time. It’s truly monumental in scope – the kind of album Styx, Boston and Dream Theater would create if they combined their talents and music styles. (In fact, to my ears, Doug’s vocals are reminiscent of Dennis DeYoung.)
From the ominous heavy sounds and eerie tinkling piano at the beginning of the opening track “Phear,” it’s clear we’re about to hear some amazing music, and Threefold Maze does not disappoint. They deliver an onslaught of blistering, razor-sharp guitar riffs, thunderous percussion and soaring harmonizing vocals. Toss in some amazing keyboards and exuberant orchestral synths, and we’ve got songs of incredible complexity and depth. This is strongly evident on “Hope,” one of the many standouts on Dollar of Dust. The guitar solo at the bridge is mind-blowing.
Many of their song lyrics address the search for meaning and purpose in life, and the challenges we face in finding our own truth. With pummeling bass and guitars blazing, the hard-hitting “To Visit the Darkness” tackles this head on:
Speculation about the world around me.
Never knowing what might be found.
I try to find my way.
Struggles of the mind are great.
Love and fear and often hate permeate my thoughts and take control.
The guys serve up more killer riffs and pulse-pounding drums on the melodic tracks “Lost My Way” and “Frozen in Time.” In fact, the brilliant “Frozen in Time” is pretty darn close to being a perfect progressive metal anthem, and is my favorite track on the album.
Next up is the beautiful instrumental interlude “Caelestial Intermission,” a nod to the band’s previous name and album. This track is loaded with magnificent guitar work and mesmerizing synths, and is another one of my favorites. The relative calm is abruptly shattered by the pummeling heavy metal sounds of “Vacant Eyes.” At 2:30, the song shifts to a soothing 30-second interlude featuring keyboards, sweeping synths, and the sublime guest vocals of Caitlin Smith, before the metal riffs return for the outro. Caitlin appears again on “If I” and the epic “What Truth,” a seven and half minute long tour de force of rhythmic shifts, chord change ups, hammering percussion, buzzing bass lines, intriguing synths, mindbending guitar work and lovely vocal harmonies. The track is so melodically and musically complex that it has the feel of a mini rock opera.
At this point, one would think the guys would begin to run out of steam, but nothing could be further from the truth. Their phenomenal musicianship continues to shine on “Beyond the Grey” and “This Moment Calling,” another standout track with jaw-dropping power riffs. The fantastic hard-driving “Neverwake” is a reworking of a track that originally appeared on Aura Caelestis, and a fitting closer to a superb album.