A Light in the Dark, the debut LP from teenage metallers Next to None, can best be summed up by the word “potential”. The band is best known for drummer Max Portnoy, who follows in the rather legendary footsteps of his father Mike Portnoy (who also produces and lends occasional backing vocals to this record). The line-up is completed by Ryland Holland on guitar, Kris Rank on bass, and Thomas Cuce on keyboards and lead vocals, and the band have been playing together since the impressive age of 12.
The style of the album is quite difficult to define. Mike Portnoy has been known to describe it as “Dream Theater meets Slipknot”, and actually he’s not too far off. There are undoubtedly traditionally prog-metal elements and sections throughout, but much of the album is also more straightforward, contemporary metal with generous sprinklings of harsh vocals and teenage angst.
I started by describing the album as having potential, so I should probably explain why. For their age, this is mighty impressive stuff. Regardless of the fact that the album has been produced by someone as experienced as Mike Portnoy, the band themselves write and perform the music, and there’s some top-notch material on the album, particularly for a group of 16-year-olds. But that’s just the thing – “great for teenagers” isn’t the same thing as simply “great”.
There is plenty to enjoy on this album. Some of the riffing is really good, and songs like Runaway and Social Anxiety do a fine job of getting me headbanging along. Many of the album’s prog infusions are also nice and do a good job of providing some variety to the album. In particular, I do rather enjoy the DT-esque prog stylings of Control, which sits bang in the middle of the album, and closer Blood on My Hands which has some of the album’s best verses. The two slow songs on the album, A Lonely Walk and Legacy, also serve to very nicely break up the angst that permeates much of the album, and are strong songs in their own right.
The band’s performances are also mostly solid. I’m not particularly convinced by Thomas Cuce’s vocaIs, but I think it’s simply a case of his voice needing more development. He’s no child prodigy in the vocal department, but there’s potential there if he works on his singing as he gets older. I must admit that Max Portnoy does stand out for some very impressive playing that lends a lot of credibility to the overall sound, although there are moments where his playing isn’t super-tight. This applies to the whole band really – undoubtedly impressive for their age, but in absolute terms it’s not entirely slick all the way through.
And that is really what holds the album back from being great – a real lack of consistency. For each excellent head-banging riff or solid chorus there is another that just doesn’t particularly interest me. There’s also not enough for me in the way of highlights. There are some very good moments, but they are not sufficient, or of sufficient greatness, to fully compensate for the weaker moments and draw me back to the album much.
I’ll say it again, for 16-year-olds this is a very impressive album, and so there is clear potential for the band to keep working at what they are doing. If they can continue to develop and tighten both their playing and their song-writing, and Cuce can strengthen his vocals, then another album or two and they could be producing some great music. At the moment, though, they are not quite there. This is a good album, a solid start to their career, and I definitely recommend checking it out. But I’m far more interested to see what they produce next.