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Syzygy - Cosmos and Chaos (as Witsend) CD (album) cover

COSMOS AND CHAOS (AS WITSEND)

Syzygy

 

Crossover Prog

3.16 | 11 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Cosmos and Chaos' - Witsend (62/100)

Perhaps even moreso than their Scandinavian counterparts, it's the United States that has carried the symphonic prog mantle into recent decades. I'm not sure what it is about the richly pastoral sounds of Genesis that appeal so much to the Americans, but there has been a surge of (often Christian) bands in the US dedicating to keeping the symphonic tradition alive, long since the original progressive zeitgeist died. Echolyn and Transatlantic rank among the best-known (though, in the case of the latter, far from the best) examples, but many are left for the genre's more dedicated fans to seek and discover. Among the more promising of these Second Wave adherents is Syzygy, who first made their start as Witsend, a trio who were still attending a music conservatory when this debut was released. Although a lot of the album seems to be hinting at a point the band never makes, the early Syzygy's (mostly) instrumental blend of classical guitar and Hackett-focused Genesis worship is unpretentious and capable.

Although Witsend (or Syzygy) experiment with vocals (with mixed success) on "Circadian Rhythm", Cosmos and Chaos is an otherwise instrumental album. In a much more recent interview, Baldassarre described the album as an "honest" mixture of progressive rock and classical music, and I would tend to agree. Although they were still years away from fleshing out their sound (2003's The Allegory of Light was more substantive, 2009's Realms of Eternity doubly so) the trio is confident and eager to explore the progressive format. The strongest reference here would be Steve Hackett, particularly he did concurrently, and following his work with the legendary Genesis. Listening to a piece like the excellently composed and pastoral "Voyager", I can't help but recall Steve's Voyage of the Acolyte, one of my favourite symphonic prog albums. Emerson, Lake and Palmer is also evoked, on the considerably show-ier "Strange Loop II"; Sam Giunta's enthusiastic synth observations closely parallel Keith Emerson's. "Mount Ethereal" and "Closure" respectively lend harder-hitting approaches to Witsend's style, in turn reminding me of some of the heavier symphonic rockers. Making the leap between Steve Hackett to ELP and Kansas doesn't seem like a world of change, but it proves at least that the nascent Syzygy were more than the simple Genesis acolytes they and many of their less-promising contemporaries appear to be.

With the handful of fleshed-out instrumentals and jovial "Circadian Rhythm" obviously aside, most of the tracks on Cosmos and Chaos are short, to-the-point, and built around Carl Baldassarre's not-inconsiderable skills with the nylon-string guitar. While many of these might pass as wayside interludes on a more substantive prog album, Witsend give them at least as much importance to Cosmos and Chaos as the meatier compositions themselves. Fortunately, these 'interludes' tend to be very tasteful and enjoyable. Carl Baldassarre is clearly a guitarist of the Steve Hackett school, choosing his notes carefully, hesitating to stress technique if it's not deemed necessary. In particular, his twin classical etudes are beautifully composed and played. Think of the pleasant acoustic "Horizons" Genesis used to prelude "Supper's Ready" on Foxtrot, and you should have an idea how roughly half of Cosmos and Chaos sounds. The problem here, of course, is that there is no "Supper's Ready", or otherwise epic demonstration of what Witsend are so apparently capable of, judging from the mid-length rock instrumentals. To be fair, all four of the instrumentals sound ambitiously composed, but by the time the album is over, it feels like half of it has been spent wading through pleasant interludes, waiting for Witsend's meatier progressive rock. It's understandable that the band would want to showcase their guitarist's expertise with classical guitar, but as it stands, Cosmos and Chaos sounds a bit like an empty stomach; enthusiastic, but unsatisfying.

Cosmos and Chaos is most certainly "honest"- something which feels sorely lacking in a lot of prog- but I don't believe it's much more than that. The instrumentals are engaging, and the classical guitar is pleasant, but something is certainly missing from Syzygy's debut. Ultimately (and in spite of the fact that Baldassarre's short pieces are well-written), Cosmos and Chaos is a case of too much potatoes and not enough meat. Although the jumbled montage of the its final track, this album doesn't have quite enough adhesive to keep it together.

Conor Fynes | 3/5 |

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