Around Christmas time last year, I suddenly realized that I’d reached 47 years old without reading “1984.”

When I did, those Orwellian visions seemed to foretell the post-truth age. The social media landscape in 2023 is a void into which Steve Bannon (who was in the Trump administration, don’t forget) reckons the way to win the battle is “to flood the area with shit.”

This is not some dystopian vision anymore. It is happening. It’s happened. Listen to “The Coming Storm” on BBC Sounds and tell me you’re not worried about the future.

But let’s go back to the past for a minute. Back in 2017, Threshold released a wonderful record called ‘Legends Of The Shires.” This is its sequel. Which isn’t as complicated as you might think. Oblivion Protocol is a new band from Threshold songwriter Richard West. He got together some mates (the lineup is completed with three renowned musicians: guitarist Ruud Jolie (WITHIN TEMPTATION), bassist Simon Andersson (DARKWATER), and drummer Darby Todd (DEVIN TOWNSEND). Last but not least, THRESHOLD’s Karl Groom has also contributed some guitar solos to the record.) and decided to write a sequel to the original “…..Shires” record.

Let’s get it said right now. It is stunning.

Beginning and ending with “The Fall.” It is impossible to listen to “Part 1” without thinking of Roger Waters. It sounds massive. The lush strings, the acoustics, and West sings (he’s the frontman as well as the keyboard player here) “they closed down all the borders to start another war,” you think of the barge on Portland Harbour and despair.

Groom’s solo on that one is stunning, while Jolie’s metal background shines through on “Tormented,” but it’s “Public Safety Broadcast” that hits home the most. A quite stunning thing straight out of the Ministry Of Truth (or those party political broadcasts from three years back that masqueraded as “Daily Briefings”).

I should say, though, that it’s possible to enjoy these as brilliant prog songs without worrying about the creeping nightmare vision. It’s just that to me, the likes of “This Is Not A Test” are too good and too wide-ranging not to think of them on the deeper level, the big picture, if you will.

They are supremely well done, mind you. The incredible gravitas of the keys on “Storm Warning” as the story gets more entangled. “They’ll write another story and start another war” offers the hook (hello Daily Mail, GB News, and the ilk….) and the weird electronic disembodiment of the floating “Vertigo,” which brings to mind Marillion, but also, as its strings wash over you, makes you understand that at its heart, this is a very “human” record. Concerned with people. With society.

“Forests In The Fallout” is as heavy as it is overwhelming. The Oblivion Protocol is underway, we have no time. The doomsday is upon us, and it ends – almost – where we began, with “The Fall Pt 2.” A big, beautiful, and warm conclusion. This is a quite wonderful collection. We go “home” at the end, according to the chorus, we find our way back, and we will too. Somehow.

That’s for the future. What is absolutely about the present, though, is the album itself, and that’s easier to decide upon. “The Fall Of The Shires” is one of the records of the year.

Rating: 9.5/10

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