Album review: NEXT TO NONE – A Light In The Dark

NEXT TO NONE - A Light In The Dark

Inside Out [Release date 29.06.15]

When I was about 14 years old, I got beaten up by the meanest, toughest, most fearless kid in school – and he was only 10…not my finest hour. Now, at the ripe old age of 51, having listened to “A Light In The Dark”, the debut offering by Next To None, I feel like my ears have just suffered the same fate as my face and pride in the playground all those years ago.

The Portnoy household must be a noisy place with senior and junior, Mike and Max respectively, tub-thumping day and night. Max Portnoy (drums) and his band mates Ryland Holland (guitar), Kris Rank (Bass) and Thomas Cuce (keys and vocals) are still several years off from being able to legally buy a beer and will probably get tattoo’d first. They have, however, come up with a fairly interesting debut album.

Clearly guided by former Dream Theater drummer, Mike Portnoy, the production is spot on as one might expect – they kind of sound like “Sons of Dream Theater”, again no surprise there.  Next To None are ridiculously young to have come up with this hyperactive slab of prog metal and that has to be borne in mind by the listener – there’s nothing particularly extraordinary or exceptional about this album EXCEPT for the fact that it was written and recorded by a bunch of 16 year olds.

There is obviously musical potential in abundance here but it’s almost like they tried too hard to include everything which “should” be on a prog metal album – 1,000 bpm drumming, haunting, threatening keys, grinding riffage and screamy vocals. One can’t fault the technical execution of the playing – unexpected time shifts which would make Geddy Lee’s head spin and Ian Anderson raise an eyebrow – but it’s a bit like neck shredding on the guitar….just because it’s technically possible, doesn’t make it necessarily easy on the ear.

That said, the album opener, ‘The Edge of Sanity’, builds well to a promising chorus until the growling caterwauling vocals kick-in, as they sadly often do during this album. I appreciate that, like bondage or hot candle wax, this extreme vocal style isn’t for everyone but there is a market for it. This is less “thinking man’s music” and more “thinking about how badly I’m gonna get hurt in the moshpit” type stuff. Vacillating between a sonic ear-beating and almost symphonic overtures, the band needs to mature and find its way – mixing up genres, in this case Prog and Metal, often leads to artists cramming too much into each track.  Sometimes, less is more.

The two ballads, ‘A Lonely Walk’ and ‘Legacy’, are well done but a bit too similar and out of sync with the rest of the album content whilst ‘Lost’ features a weirdly-interesting but quite cool tip of the hat to Grieg’s ‘In The Hall Of The Mountain King’.

Stand-out track, ‘Control’, thunders along almost Maiden-like after ten straight pints of Red Bull – then the growling kicks-in though the track redeems itself as it concludes.

Album closer, ‘Blood On My Hands’ is destined to be a soundtrack for the next genre of scary movies which make the Saw films look like Grease. Listen to it with the lights on otherwise you’ll end up chained to a radiator, wrapped in a blanket, rocking back and forth and salivating from the mouth.

All in all, not a bad debut effort for ones’ so young. Maturity and focus will probably improve Next To None and take them to the next level over time. The technical mastery of their respective instruments is clearly there for all to hear – now they need to hone it into good, cohesive song-writing. An excellent example of “less is more” on a thrilling debut album is “Howl” by LA’s Beware of Darkness. Next To None are Pennsyvania-based where the freezing winter temperatures probably lead you to play harder, faster and angrier just to keep warm.  **1/2

Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw

The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk Sunday 21 February, 16:00 EST, 21:00 GMT

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