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Syzygy - The Allegory of Light  CD (album) cover

THE ALLEGORY OF LIGHT

Syzygy

 

Crossover Prog

3.88 | 50 ratings

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Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer
4 stars 'The Allegory of Light' - Syzygy (66/100)

Ten years prior to the release of Syzygy's de facto second album The Allegory of Light, the Carl Baldassarre-led trio was known as Witsend. In the midst of completing terms at a music conservatory and starting families, their first (and, for a long time, only) album Cosmos and Chaos was released; a pleasant, if not totally satisfying album, Witsend proved at least what the guys were capable of as musicians. Fast forward a decade of relative silence from Syzygy, and they released The Allegory of Light. It's ultimately a more rewarding album than its predecessor, but I wonder whether the focus on technique and 'prog for prog's sake' attitude of the album doesn't alienate the things I loved most about their humble beginnings. Syzygy don't break any established rules of progressive rock, but from a technical standpoint, they flourish within them.

At once, it is clear that Syzygy have worked out many of the more blatant kinks in their formula. Where the meaty prog composition felt strangely hard to come by on Cosmos and Chaos, The Allegory of Light is dense and tightly-packed with instrumental fireworks. Where in their pre-Syzygy days they would be hinged on concise songwriting and simple tunes, The Allegory of Light boasts three epics, the melodically-inclined "M.O.T.H" (short for 'master of the house'), the densely packed "Zinjanthropus" and the balls-out progstravaganza "The Journey of Myrrdin". On those and the rest, cerebral musicianship and liberal changes in time signature aren't uncommon. Although there's a hint of the pastoral tone of Cosmos and Chaos, it's safe to say that Syzygy made their 'debut' as a far different creature than Witsend. Both are firmly rooted in '70s progressive nostalgia, but The Allegory of Light undoubtedly the more challenging listen of the two.

Of course, there are elements that have crossed over. Syzygy remains a largely instrumental act, and Baldassarre's history as a classical guitarist is evident, certainly in the acoustic "Beggar's Tale". The smell of Genesis still lingers in many of the album's prettier moments, but Syzygy are much closer to the more technical meanderings of Gentle Giant. Although that might seem like a short leap to make (one symph-prog act to another, largely symphonic band), the major distinction lies in the way it manifests itself in the album's atmosphere. I first listened to The Allegory of Light a year ago expecting something along the lines of Steve Hackett, but Syzygy are far too busy with technique to warrant the comparison any longer. On "M.O.T.H" and "Industryopolis", there are even dissonant sections I'd expect to hear from one of the classically-influenced Rock In Opposition bands. Syzygy's own education in classical music surely manifests itself here, albeit in an entirely different manner than the softer sounds of Cosmos.

As we heard only briefly with Witsend with "Circadian Rhythm", Carl Baldassarre once again tries his hand with vocals, if only for the title suite (comprising the first three tracks). While his singing lacks the confidence to have effectively fronted the band full-time, the plainness of his voice has a hearty intimacy to it, the likes of which I've come to love and expect from US symphonic prog. Unsurprisingly for a band of their style, Syzygy offer an expert grasp of their respective instruments. While Cosmos and Chaos tended to highlight Carl Baldassarre's talents predominantly, each of the three Syzygians bring a world of sound to The Allegory of Light. As always, Baldassarre comfortably shifts between proggy pyrotechnics and softer classical guitar, impressing equally with both. Sam Giunta (who only had "Strange Loop II" off Cosmos and Chaos to really show his skills) takes a major role in the compositions with often-weighty organ playing; like some of the early heavy prog bands circa 1970, Syzygy tend to bring their relative 'heaviness' via the keyboard, freeing up the guitar for leads and a melodic role. Perhaps most impressive of all on the record is Paul Mihacevich; the calculated and busy drumwork is multi-faceted and endlessly dynamic. Perhaps it would be premature to say he is one of the greatest unsung drummers in modern progressive rock based on a single album, but he went ahead and confirmed my feelings with 2009's Realms of Eternity, so I think it's fair to say so.

I'm certainly more impressed by Syzygy's grasp of technique on their second album together, and compared to the part-instrumental prog, part-interlude Cosmos and Chaos, The Allegory of Light's density rewards repeated listens. At the same time, there's a small part of me that misses the 'tautology' of Witsend; specifically, the melodic songcraft they infused into their composition. While many of the tracks here outweigh Cosmos' opener "Voyager" in technical firepower and ambition, are any quite so cleverly written? This is prog rock, made by fans of prog rock, for fans of prog rock, almost to a fault. Syzygy certainly extended their reach with The Allegory of Light, but may have lost some of the honesty that made their debut oddly charming.

Conor Fynes | 4/5 |

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