The Bodhisattva Beat
Music and Life

Discipline: Unfolded Like Staircase

Unfolded Like Staircase: 1997

When dealing with a band that only recorded two excellent albums, and one is considered a masterpiece, I feel it is necessary to stress the quality of the other. The best analogy I can make is “Unfolded Like Staircase” is to “Push and Profit” what “Close to the Edge” is to “The Yes Album.” In both circumstances the band followed an album that would have been the high point for other artists with a much grander artistic statement.

Grandiosity is not absent on “Push and Profit,” but it is what defines “Unfolded Like Staircase.” All the stops were pulled out for an epic prog extravaganza. The album consists of four pieces totaling 55 minutes of playing time. These days that is not so unusual (nor was it in the ’70s), but this is from 1997. Most of the Neo bands in that era were including just one epic track. For that reason, and the style of the music, “Unfolded Like Staircase” (more than “Push and Profit”) shows that Discipline wasn’t really a Neo-prog band. In actuality they were part of the ’90s symphonic renaissance.

A conglomeration of influences like classic Yes (four epic tracks), Genesis (the closing segment of “Canto IV”), big time Van Der Graaf Generator (you really should see how Matthew Parmenter’s eyes light up when Peter Hammill’s name is mentioned), and possibly a bit of Roine Stolt (listen to the middle part of “Into the Dream” and let me know if I am just imagining things) combined with the lessons learned in the ’80s allow the music to be original and true to its roots. Plus it doesn’t hurt that there is a tremendous amount of talent involved.

This time out the band was down one member. Keyboard player David Kroftchok did not stick around for the second album. Instead of finding a replacement the bench was pulled out for Matthew Parmenter. David was good, but Mr. Parmenter’s abilities are also formidable (the only downside being that he was now tied to an instrument for all future live shows). The entire band shines throughout. Mathew Kennedy and Paul Dzendzel solidified their place in the upper echelon of rhythm sections. As Kennedy flies effortlessly through extremely complex bass lines, Dzendzel is always fascinates with his creative combinations. Jon Preston Bouda’s guitar may not instantly jump out at you, but if you pay attention to his emotion and sense of what is needed you will discover how impressive he is. What does jump out is Matthew Parmenter’s lyrics and the level at which he performs them. The man is dark theater incarnate.

I think it speaks volumes that no one member of the band, other than the front man, really stands out. This is incredibly complex music and no one tries to grab the spotlight, nor does anything fall through the cracks. The same is true of Parmenter’s keyboard work. A single instrument may take the focus, but only if that is what the music calls for. This is what a band should be.

As to the music itself, it is pure prog genius. The subject matter is pretty dark. The first piece cries the lament, “…but how can there possibly be no more room up there for me. Here I am in limbo.” “Into the Dream” offers the cheery sentiment, “…and if the world must fall, let it fall.” I am pretty happy and positive person, so you might wonder why I find this appealing. The answer is that it’s just that good. When art is this sincere and well crafted, any subject matter can be appreciated. Matthew Parmenter is a masterful poet and composer.

Even if you removed the lyrics and the vocals (which is not recommended), the compositions and musicianship would blow you away. The pounding stutter of the opening to “Canto IV” sets the tone that you are in for something big. The theater and mood swings of “Crutches” are edge your seat captivating. “Into the Dream” is almost a “Supper’s Ready” for the next generation. If it were possible hold a reader’s attention for that long, I would break it all down. Even then I couldn’t do it justice.

“Unfolded Like Staircase” is considered a classic by many prog fans, and for good reason. I am in agreement and not just because I am also from Michigan. Prog aside, this is rock music at its best. Give it a shot. You may want to start with “Push and Profit,” but that will lead you here. This album is Discipline’s masterwork to date. Living up to the legacy is going to be a difficult task for the reformed band on the new album. From what I have seen recently, they are up to the challenge.

Matthew Parmenter – voice, keyboards, violin, alto saxophone, orchestra chimes
Mathew Kennedy – bass guitar
Jon Preston Bouda – electric and acoustic guitars
Paul Dzendzel – drums and percussion

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4 Responses to “Discipline: Unfolded Like Staircase”

  1. I will definitely have to check this album out! Though I admit to always having been put off by the ‘Neo’ label, your excellent review is a great incentive.

  2. One of my favourite albums ever! And my wife loves it too!

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