Let’s try something a little different today. Open up a new tab and give a quick listen to this or this – you don’t need to hear it all, just thirty seconds or so. What did you think? Was that something you’d enjoy, or would you normally pass on it? Those promoting the newest instrumental prog metal project, Into The Great Divide, in one fell swoop, have more effectively conveyed everything that needs to be said to sell you on their music in these two compilations than the next 800 words ever could. The transparency of the music here renders a full review detailing the various elements relatively moot, as all you need to know if the music worth your time is to answer the question if you’d enjoy spending more time listening to the music they used to promote it. This wouldn’t be much of a review if I left it at that though, so let’s dive deep into this divide to see if it really is that great.
Tackling the elephant in the room right away: yes, this is the band that is heavily being pushed as Mike Mangini’s new project (not enough credit going to Richard Chycki, despite his significant role), and yes, there are a lot of superficial elements of classic sounding Dream Theater here. This comparison is only skin deep though, and the music on display here takes much from a wide array of ‘classic’ acts to build its familiar soundscapes. From the acoustics and structural deviations of Rush and Yes, to the playful melodies of Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert, everything flows through well trodden ground in a way that will either come off as uninspired and derivative, or comfortable and fun. With all records the argument of preference is undoubtedly paramount, but here in particular you’ll find yourself getting more enjoyment out of the offerings if you grew up on these more traditional and popular prog groups.
One of the most appreciable elements of the record is its ability to shy away from virtuoso displays of musicianship at times. While there are impressive displays and all manner of instrumental divulgences around each corner, there is also a respectable amount of time spent with a relatively uncomplicated riff or line driven without unnecessary flairs, allowing the listener to simply enjoy. The quiet, slower moments of piano or acoustics were some of the most standout on the record. Fear not, you’ll still get your fair share of Rainbow-esque keyboards and – as mentioned before – Dream Theater-like reprieves as well.
The unfortunate truth here, though, is that with the envelope so firmly closed, it all sounds so safe that much of its bite or meaningful engagement is potentially lost along the way. Meandering within this well worn architecture might be exactly what some prog fans want in a world where the genre is defined by the likes of Sithu Aye, AAL, Intervals and their kin, but it also lacks the inventiveness and direction that makes something akin to Liquid Tension Experiment, or even the more recent Nova Collective, so special.
Enough of the comparisons though, there is actually a more prominent and interesting element than the actual music here – one that is equally divisive: the story. You might be asking yourself what kind of story might exist within an instrumental album, or how it might be conveyed sans any lyrics to act as the backbone of the narrative journey. The answer: a simple one, and relatively clumsily. See, the promotion for the record makes sure you understand that this is about the hero’s journey, something that the visual accompaniments and text clearly detail in no uncertain terms. They way they get this across in the music itself is through the use of audiobook-like intros to each and every song with each subsequent track being a literal ‘chapter’ – which is as effective as you’re likely assuming.
First, I’d like to clarify that I actually commend them for trying something new here, even if it seems fundamentally flawed. I’ve never heard anything like it and it sounds neat from an outside perspective. The issues inherent in this design become apparent when you attempt to dig into the album proper though. When sitting and listening to it front to back, it might not seem to intrusive, but that is much less the case if on shuffle or on repeated listens when you just want to listen to music. Moreover, the tracks themselves rarely do a good job of conveying the tone and emotions the story requires. With the exception of “The Crossing”, “Dark Waters”, and “Mist In The Sun”, you could have any track switch titles and hardly notice a difference. It leaves me conflicted, as I can’t help but feel as if the album would have benefited from trimming the narrative fat to simply have a few fun jams, but it is also the one singular characteristic helping to add a unique and defining element to the music.
Despite my pejorative meandering, however, I actually enjoyed my time with Into The Great Divide‘s first effort. It clearly comes from a place of fun and reverence for the past. The musicianship is top notch, pin point accurate if nothing boundary pushing or especially emotive. Mildly entertaining at best, inoffensive at worst. The idea behind the narrative framework was also interesting, though perhaps too poorly implemented to appreciate on more than a surface level. What’s left is a set of tracks that will either find a home alongside your copy of Suspended Animation and Surfing With The Alien, or be forgotten as the months go on.
Notable Tracks: “A New Perspective”; “Dark Waters”; “And So It Ends”
FFO: Dream Theater, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci (solo)