Ryo Okumoto – The Myth of Mostrophus (Album Review)

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Legends rise and they fall. Sometimes those legends are monsters like the great Mostrophus who seem to disappear – even for one hundred thousand years – only to resurface stronger (and hungrier) than ever. Those legends may be bands like Spock’s Beard who disappear for a while only to be born again in a slightly different form. Although currently still in hibernation after their excellent “Noise Floor” from 2018, Spock’s enigmatic and enthusiastic keyboardist Ryo Okumoto is ready to unleash his own version of the band: Ryo’s Beard, in essence. “The Myth of Mostrophus” is his first solo album in 20 years and like that previous release, he invites a virtual Who’s Who of stellar musicians to realize his vision.

The Ryo’s Beard moniker isn’t just a cute play on words: half of the album is indeed performed by Spock’s alumni, delivering a half-hour of new material. It’s essentially the equivalent of a new Spock’s EP…er, Ryo’s Beard EP. The other 4 tracks tread slightly different waters with an all-star roster but fortunately there is enough consistency to make this a cohesive album with its own sound, largely thanks to the main songwriters being Okumoto and I Am The Manic Whale’s Michael Whiteman throughout. It’s modern prog through and through, supported equally by solid songwriting, performance and musical indulgence. An ideal monster of a prog combo.

Book-ending the album are the Beard tunes, appropriately enveloping the album in familiar territory. Opener “Mirror Mirror” is a not-so subtle reference to the Star Trek episode where Spock’s alter-ego sports the beard in question. Featuring Nick D’Virgilio on drums and soaring vocals, Dave Meros on bass and Alan Morse on guitar, we are firmly back in Spock’s 2.0 stomping ground and it must be said – it sounds damn good. This would be one of the better tracks from that era of the band, boasting classic Beard chord progression architecture complete with churning organ solo from Okumoto and blazing Alan Morse finger-picked lead lines. We’re up and running, kids.

At the other end of the album awaits the 22-minute epic title track, here told bravely by Nick D’Virgilio and Ted Leonard. It’s a pretty cool trading off of their vocal prowess to tell the tale of Mostrophus as these guys can make anything sound good, and the backing vocal arrangements are fun, too. Which is fortunate because, well, it’s a pretty silly tale with lyrics presented in narrative form which would feel clumsy and arduous in less talented hands. It’ll really be down to the listener whether they love this approach or are more tentative, but most prog fanatics will likely eat it up simply because it’s packed with classic Spock’s goodness. The eventual fall of the monster comes down to an unlikely hero: the singer of a prog-rock band who lays down a golden melody that the beast cannot stomach. Maybe the monster is a metaphor for music critics who slam progressive rock? The whole approach feels tongue-in-cheek in an endearing sense and again, with a foundation of layered prog goodness there’s plenty to enjoy along the ride. It’s not an epic like Neal Morse or others have written before, no this is truly a monstrous fire-breathing tale from Ryo’s Beard and what better way to end the album?

“The Myth of the Mostrophus” Album Artwork

In between the Bearded bookends are four songs with very different personnel but no less impact. Shepherded by fellow-Progject member Jonathan Mover on drums (and what amazing drumming he lays down!) and networking, a slew of greats make their guest appearances for the instrumentation including Steve Hackett, Mike Keneally, Doug Wimbish, Lyle Workman and many more. “Turning Point” features Michael Sadler’s sweeping lead vocals which are a perfect compliment to the 3/4 time signature (one of many time signatures in the song, to be sure), simply a fantastic track. Special mention must be made of Michael Whiteman’s backing vocal arrangements which cleverly add new dimensions to this and other tracks.

Whiteman gets his own vocal spotlight on the next two songs, the standout of which is “Maximum Velocity”. There’s tons of interstellar travel songs out there and this one stands right up there with the best of them, opening with wistful acoustic guitar plucking, then engaging a driving blastoff sequence. Okumoto’s synth leads aptly convey the mood and Hackett’s solo is well-placed, including a short fiery tradeoff with Okumoto. Again, Whiteman’s layered vocals are spot-on, even if his tendency to roll his “rrrrr”’s can be annoying. But he has certainly won over this listener. Finally, the ballad “Chrysalis” is one of the album’s standouts, featuring Randy McStine on vocals and an inspired brief guitar solo. It’s wonderful taking in Okumoto’s relaxed acoustic piano after the fury of “Maximum Velocity”. Andy Suzuki’s flute is a nice touch, too, bringing in a pastoral flavor that had been missing elsewhere.

There’s plenty here for Okumoto to be proud of and listeners to be delighted with. Recorded and mixed by – who else? – Rich Mouser, the album was destined to sound pristine. The consistent writing of Okumoto and Whiteman provides a strong foundation, even as the various musicians come and go as they make their mark. Whether you’ve been craving a new chapter in the Bearded legacy or just some great new modern prog, “The Myth of the Mostrophus” fits the bill. Who knows when the monster will resurface again?

Released By: Inside Out Music
Release Date: July 29th, 2022
Genre:  Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Ryo Okumoto / Keyboards

With:

  • Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train, Spock’s Beard) / Drums & Vocals
  • Al Morse (Spock’s Beard) / Guitar
  • Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard) / Bass
  • Ted Leonard (Spock’s Beard. Transatlantic) / Vocals
  • Jimmy Keegan (Spock’s Beard) / Vocals
  • Steve Hackett (Genesis) / Guitar
  • Michael Sadler (Saga, ProgJect) / Vocals
  • Mike Keneally (Steve Vai, Frank Zappa, ProgJect) / Guitar
  • Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani, ProgJect) / Drums
  • Marc Bonila (Keith Emerson/Kevin Gilbert) / Guitar
  • Doug Wimbish (Living Colour) / Bass
  • Randy McStine (McStine & Minnemann, Porcupine Tree) / Guitars & Vocals
  • Lyle Workman (Todd Rundgren) / Guitar
  • Michael Whiteman (I Am the Manic Whale) / Guitars & Vocals

“The Myth of the Mostrophus”track-listing:

1.Mirror Mirror (9:27)
2.Turning Point (6:53)
3.The Watchmaker (Time On His Side) (6:25)
4.Maximum Velocity (8:11)
5.Chrysalis (7:35)
6.The Myth Of The Mostrophus (22:14)

“The Myth of the Mostrophus” is now available for pre-order here

8.9 Excellent

Legendary keyboardist Ryo Okumoto pulls out all the stops for his first solo album in 20 years. Featuring a dizzying array of guest musicians, including most of his Spock’s Beard bandmates, this is one monster of an album. His main songwriting partner in crime, Michael Whiteman, is an inspired choice, also adding very tasteful backing vocal arrangements throughout. While Spock’s Beard simmers underground, Okumoto’s “Mostrophus” is alive and kicking, a towering achievement too big to be missed.

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 10
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