Phases is the second album from prog metal outfit Next to None, comprising vocalist Thomas Cuce, guitarist Derrick Schneider (who replaces Ryland Holland), bassist Kris Rank and Max Portnoy (son of Mike) on drums. When we reviewed their 2015 debut, A Light in the Dark, we felt the teenage band had good potential but weren’t yet standing on their own. We were therefore keen to find out to what extent they have developed for their sophomore release.
The album starts atmospherically, opening intro track 13 shifting from electronic glitches to an eerie piano melody that leads into the first full song Answer Me. It’s an adequate start that deviates little from ground covered by their debut. Slipknot-esque riffs, piano quirks, proggy passages and some decent melodies (though not the strongest on the album) are all on display here. It is immediately apparent that Cuce’s vocals have come on over the last two years – both his clean and harsh singing are more varied and more convincing – but detractors of the style are unlikely to be won over. So far, so familiar, if a little slicker than what we’ve heard before.
As the album progresses, the band begins to try out some new ideas that set it apart from A Light in the Dark. The Apple is distinctly djent-led in its riff stylings, while songs like Beg and Alone (one of the album’s strongest) stray into the dark, quirky territory one might expect from bands such as Diablo Swing Orchestra or Unexpect. There are also quieter breaks and moodier moments that help to pace the album somewhat. The band weaves these nicely into songs that are otherwise fairly full-on, rather than standalone “ballads”.
They are hardly ground-breaking explorations, but experimenting more than on their first album provides some much needed variety and dynamism. The quirkier vibe also offers a swagger and sense of fun that was almost entirely absent from the debut. For some fans, this may clash with the angsty intensity elsewhere, but for others it will make for a more enjoyable and interesting listen.
While Next to None have made strides in exploring different ideas, they haven’t yet got to grips with doing so in a wholly coherent way. Some songs flow fine, but others that contain some of the most enjoyable material seem to jump from idea to idea with little overarching narrative. This is particularly the case in the some of the longer tracks, such as Kek and 20-minute closer The Wanderer. And although the added variety is welcome, it’s not enough to justify the album’s 78-minute runtime. It’s a very long listen, and the album doesn’t have enough to command attention throughout.
Performances are stronger all round than on their 2015 effort, aided by tighter and slicker sound production thanks to mixing from Periphery’s Nolly Getgood. Next to None no longer sound like promising teenagers with a long way to go, but like a decent established band in their own right. This is further evidenced by the way the band as a collective took on production duties this time – perhaps in response to accusations that they were given a free ride by Portnoy Sr the first time around (a point the band also addresses lyrically in The Apple).
But that’s not to say that their potential has yet been realised. It hasn’t. Phases is undoubtedly a step-up in all regards from A Light in the Dark, but in many cases only a small step. It puts them on the map as a serious outfit of their own and not just teenagers-with-famous-dad, but they have more work to do if they want to produce a great album.