Next To None - Phases

12 songs
78:23 minutes
***** ***


Two years ago, a couple of teenagers released a progressive metal album that caught the world quite by surprise. Next To None were total newcomers, with the band members about fifteen years old, but then it helped that drummer Max Portnoy is the son of none other than Mike Portnoy, former Dream Theater drummer and also busy in many other projects.

Now, the quartet is back with its sophomore album Phases, and also with a new and heavier playing guitarist. While the first album was already rather long at an hour playing time, the new record makes it to nearly eighty minutes, showing that the youngsters really want to show it this time. The short intro 13 starts with some noise before a piano takes over. Then itís time for the opener Answer Me, a six-and-a-half-minute stomper that shows that the band really worked hard to perfect their mix of progressive and nu metal. The guitar is really tuned low, the drums are fierce as hell, strange piano melodies turn up in the most unexpected places, and the vocals switch between brutal growls and melodic singing. While the growls are ok if a little generic, the melodic vocals sound a little too emo pop for my taste, but then maybe I am a generation too old to truly savour this kind of voice. I am generally not at all fond with modern metal, but the way these four musicians combine that genre with complex progressive patterns is incredibly impressive. The following The Apple deals with Max Portnoy explaining that the band worked really hard for their success and are not a case of nepotism. True, the name Portnoy was certainly not a hindrance, but listening to the skilful musicians shows that they did it all by themselves (and they are also quite the monsters live, as I can testify myself). Beg is not even three minutes long and combines brutal modern metal with circus atmosphere, reminding me of Diablo Swing Orchestra, although Next To None sound far more ballsy. And then itís time for the first long track. Alone, nearly ten minutes long, starts as a piano ballad, but soon is joined by the heavy guitar and synthesizers that show that the band also has a fondness for modern electronica artists like Skrillex and Deadmau5. The guitars also add occasional djent moments, just to show how well the band manages strange rhythms. Kek is ten and a half minutes long and is about the last King Kong movie. I told you these guys are young. But that doesnít prevent them from playing seriously wild music.

The second half of the album begins with Clarity, a catchier track that still uses its seven and a half minutes playing time to add a lot of crazy ideas. Pause is another shorter track, and thatís where the band probably tries to get airplay, and while the song comes once again with a saccharine chorus, there is so much aggression here that it will be hard to find a rock station courageous enough to play this track. But then in the age of streaming, the Internet is probably more important than classic radio stations. Mr. Mime is a really short track at three minutes, tries maybe to continue in the direction of the earlier Beg, but sounds in the end like a knock-off Slipknow. The short piano interlude Isolation segues into the eight-minute-long Denial, and now itís dawning on me that maybe a few songs less would have been more ideal. Not that this is a bad track per se, but it doesnít really add much to the album. The album concludes with the nearly twenty-minute-long The Wanderer, and while this track has a lot of really great parts, they donít always fit well together. The band tried to reuse some parts of the earlier songs in this mammoth piece, but they are maybe still too young to make it sound like a seamless entity.

I have to admit that Phases is much more interesting than their debut A Light In The Dark. Next To None have become more self-confident (sometimes maybe a little too much), and their heavier sound also works in their favour. I am not a big fan of the vocals, but thatís probably a matter of taste. What remains is an epic record with many glorious moments, and the wish that the whole thing should have been a little more concise. But if these still very young guys continue to improve so dramatically, they will one day be at the very top of the game. They definitely donít have to hide behind the looming shadow of Portnoyís dadís former band.

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