1. Page #9 (Shells)
2. Page #54 (Chemical Drive)
3. Page #27 (Surrounded By Astronauts)
4. Page #35 (An Educated Gentleman)
I believe it was my friend Jason who first told me about A Light Within, a kind of Proggy Rock band from Missouri. As we live in an age where distance doesn't matter but the download speed of your internet does, I was quickly listening to their first two EPs, a mix of spaced out, tight jams and strong vocals. Then static as the guys disappeared to work on their next release.
Finally, the world has waited enough as the band finally allow their next EP to escape the clutches of the studio. "Epilogue" is the final part of a series of three conceptual releases from A Light Within. Starting with 'Preface' (2013), then 'Body Matter' (2015) and now closing with 'Epilogue', the loose theme is of a book containing the slightly abstract thoughts of it's writer. Each track name begins a # page number, with none of them following a sequential order, reminding somewhat of Mark Z Danielewski's brain melting "House Of Leaves" (if you have a love of strange, challenging writing, please look for a copy of the book as well as the album "Haunted" by Poe that also ties in with the book).
But I digress, perhaps it's the Prog getting into my brain.....
"Epilogue" opens with 'Page #9 (Shells)', the sound of water lapping at you as various oriental and ambient sounds accentuate the peace before the band crash in. Kyle Brandt's vocals seem like another instrument in the mix, treated with effects and mixed in a way that adds to the feel of the music. There's just so many layers, I keep hearing something new on every listen. I love to hear this in songs, where you need to actively listen, to absorb what's going on within the music. It's not an easy listen but, boy, is it rewarding.
The musicians work together so well. There's space between everything sonically that allows everything to hang without bleeding into each other. Vocals are treated in the same way as the guitars, bass and drums, adding to the songs without taking them over. The mix and production work by Paul Malinowski, as well as the mastering by Acle Kahney, deserve special mention too. Everything sounds perfectly balanced with each other, something that a lot of big name albums struggle to achieve, especially when there's so much going on with the music.
'Page #54 (Chemical Drive)' slides it's way under your skin next, a more traditional sounding song than the opener. Nick Sloan uses the drums to pin everything down, holding everything in place with tight percussion whilst allowing everyone else to play their parts perfectly. Guitars, bass and vocals all weave around each other, leading to a grand and epic sounding chorus.
Third song, 'Page #27 (Surrounded By Astronauts')', opens again with ambience before dropping in Morse code, radio and Andy Schiller's picked and driving bass line. Kyle's voice is given chance to soar into the universe of the song, showing his range without becoming over dramatic but still showing confidence. In the meantime Jeff Irvine and Josh Bennett's guitars weave around the rest of the music then crunch away with a riff or two. They blend almost effortlessly together, making it hard to figure out who does what part thanks to their harmonious playing off each other. There's no excess here, everything is perfectly set to service the song.
'Page #35 (An Educated Gentleman)' brings the EP to a more than successful close. Again, everything has space to breathe and grow. Everything holds a perfect balance here, there's no ego in the musicianship. Everything is sacrificed for the song meaning there's no showing off to show how clever they are, the songs mean everything. Then, just when you were wishing there was more, the track ends, it's closing coda reminding you of how 'Epilogue' opens, ready to begin again.
Prog can occasionally come across as distant and cold, sacrificing emotion for technique, songs for showing off. Not so these guys. People may align A Light Within with the likes of Tool (come on guys, just make a damn album!) and possibly the Deftones but they have more musically in common with UK bands like Mogwai, Amplifier and Public Service Broadcasting. The songs are tight and emotive, really connecting with your brain at a primal level whilst nourishing your soul and imagination. 'Epilogue' is a soundtrack that fits anywhere, I've been listening to it in busy city centres, bus journeys to work and darkened rooms at night. It fits in with any kind of mood.
It's not often that a "progressive" band can connect on this level without becoming self indulgent, and that's a huge asset for A Light Within. Nothing is done for the sake of showing off, there's no extended guitar solos or hugely long instrumental passages that give you an excuse to go off for a three course meal only to return to find they're playing the same bloody song still. This is not too say that they've sacrificed that side of their musicianship to become commercial. They've found a way to strike a harmonious balance that straddles both worlds without slavishly treading down the well worn road of cliches.
Now that they've completed their run of conceptual EP's I'm extremely interested to see where their journey takes them. At the moment the only thing that limits them is their imagination. As for other bands a challenge has now been issued. Do you wish to challenge yourself musically? Then let A Light Within shine your way forward. Me? I'm going to try sequencing all three EP's tracks together in numerical order to see if they reveal any hidden undiscovered secrets.......
'Epilogue' is available now from A Light Within's Bandcamp page.
Bandcamp - https://alightwithin.bandcamp.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/ALWaudio/
Review - Scott Hamilton