NEXT TO NONE
Press blurb accompanying this promo proudly and boldly declares: "never in progressive music has there been a band of teen
prodigies". Perhaps that's true. Perhaps not. It all depends on how you define "progressive music", of course - the old generic versus genuine argument, I guess. I can certainly think of teen prodigies that have previously pushed the boundaries of established musical idioms and, in doing so, created new modes of sonic expression that have subsequently become widely imitated. Next To None certainly don't fit into that definition of "progression". However, in terms of pastiched genre traits, they are, indeed, progressive. And it's important to remember here that prodigious, virtuosic talent on your instruments doesn't automatically translate into great music. Anyone remember the disastrous, eponymously titled 'Seven the Hardway' 2010 album from the otherwise brilliant Tony MacAlpine and co? Comparatively, despite their tender years, Next to None, at the very least, have made an album that shits on MacAlpine's best-forgotten car-crash of a record. And it's a mixed bag, in terms of both musical heterogeneity and enjoyment.
Track order's always of vital importance for any album, and it seems that Next To None want to throw everything they have at you in opener 'The Edge of Sanity', within its 9+ minute duration. Vocally alone, the song epitomises diversity: there's much smooth-toned clean singing (that works a treat); a sporadicity of hardcore-edged vocals (which work not so well); some impassioned death growls (better); and gang shouts over the chorus (that don't particularly fit at all and sound a little too overzealous in their execution). A stormy intro with rain and thunder is overlaid with keyboards that play key themes from the song before drums kick in with a left-to-right stereo mix, and bass plus guitar to enhance the theme, before giving way to a palm-muted guitar, syncopated with drums/bass that's developed nicely through both rhythm and changing time signatures. Building up neatly to the chorus, aforementioned gang shouts and hardcore vocals abate the effect, although the track then progresses into more random territory with a variety of sonic interjections that includes what sounds like a steam train, 8-bit Pac-Man music, voice samples, and ragtime piano. Then, towards the end of the track we have some neat thrash-grooves, adorned with sweep and clean picked guitar arpeggios which give way to some manic keyboard widdling, before the song climaxes with its central, chorus motif (and, unfortunately, a few more gang shouts). It kind of works and kind of doesn't. It strikes of a band trying a little too hard to be progressive rather than allowing the music to flow in a more naturally progressive manner. Still, not too bad a start at all.
The rest of the album follows suit, with a few surprises thrown in here and there. Where 'A Light in the Dark' truly shines is with an ever-interesting performance behind the kit from Max Portnoy (son of Mike). His drumming is great throughout - some of his techniques (particularly his fills) are either genetically inherited from Portnoy senior or, more likely, he's simply learnt from one of the best. And where Next to None collectively shine is with their groove-fuelled passages where it really feels likes they're hitting their stride as a unit. The band also truly excel within the balladic approach they adopt in two tracks - the sublimely composed/executed 'A Lonely Walk' and 'Legacy'.
The production's acceptable enough in that it affords Next to None a nice organic quality to their music, rather than all this modern, overly-polished Pro Tools nonsense. It's raw enough without being overtly so... just enough to remind you that this is real people playing real instruments. However, the guitar could really do with tightening up a lot. A fairly 'loose' distortion sound (think more 'St Anger' than 'Black Album') mars the effect over certain passages of music where more incisive sonics would've given the music a lot more bite. And keyboardist Thomas CucÚ's clean vocals sound a little false in the mix at times - an odd vocal effect seems to have been applied to his voice that zaps them of a little emotion.
While I wouldn't necessarily label the musicians involved here as prodigies, there's most definitely some virtuosic potential to be heard. Give them a little more time to refine their respective and collective skills and only then we might very well have something very special to get genuinely excited about. After all, they were only 15/16 years old when recording this; they have plenty of time for refinement and development. For now, though, 'A Light in the Dark' is a more than respectable debut from a promising new act, who are keeping the progressive flag flying for a whole new generation.
A LIGHT IN THE DARK
Review by Mark Holmes
29th June 2015
1) The Edge of Sanity
2) You Are Not Me
4) A Lonely Walk
7) Social Anxiety
9) Blood on My Hands
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a more than respectable debut from a promising new act, who are keeping the progressive flag flying for a whole new generation."