Witsend - "Cosmos And Chaos" (Witsend Music/Entropy Records 1993, 927608)
Syzygy - "The Allegory Of Light" (Syzygy Music Enterprises 2003)
Uploaded to Aural Innovations: March 2004
Witsend were a northern Ohio progressive rock trio who released one excellent CD in 1993 and then seemed to drop off the face of the earth. When Paul Mihacevich contacted me recently about sending the new CD by his band Syzygy for review I had no basis for making a connection with Witsend. So it was much to my surprise and delight upon opening the promo package that I found that Syzygy was precisely the same Witsend, though the band later discovered that they could no longer use the name because they never secured the rights to it and someone else had since done just that. But no matter. Witsend/Syzygy are the trio of Carl Baldassarre on guitars, mandolins and vocals, Sam Giunta on keyboards and Paul Mihacevich on drums and percussion.
Along with the new Syzygy CD the band have reissued Witsend's Cosmos And Chaos. The set opens on a powerful note with "Voyager", immediately signalling that we are in for a set of classic progressive rock bliss. There's a slight symphonic element to the music, but Giunta is a fine keyboardist and really focuses on his playing rather than massive walls of sympho sound, which against Baldassarre's equally adept guitar work and Mihacevich's rhythmic foundation makes for some excellent instrumentals, beautiful melodies and the majesty that is a hallmark of classic progressive.
"Circadian Rhythm" is next and though I hadn't heard this album in some years this song instantly came back to me as if I had only heard it yesterday. If I had to compare Witsend to anyone, Genesis certainly comes to mind, and even more so Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips' solo works, but I'm also reminded of Witsend's comtemporaries like Pendragon, though instrumentally I think Witsend are a more potent force. Throughout the album I hear an impressive combination of songwriting, intricate (but not overblown) thematic development, and solid musicianship that focuses on the needs of the song, never relying on mere flash. Acoustic guitar is a key instrument on this album, responsible for much of the album's delicacy. But Witsend can rock out too, a highlight being the smokin' "Strange Loop II". And I love the way it's sandwiched between some of the most peaceful acoustic moments on the album. It works really well and isn't the last dramatic shift between full band glory and acoustic dreamland. Other standout tracks include "Mount Ethereal", a high octane instrumental that rocks hard but has a strong orchestral feel. "The Tone Row" is one of the shortest tracks on the album but has some killer guitar sounds that grabbed me. Overall, a primo prog rock work and I'm glad the band reissued it for a new millennium audience to hear.
Fast forward to 2003 and the release of Syzygy's The Allegory Of Light CD. The first three tracks comprise the nearly 20 minute title track suite. Syzygy come roaring out of the starting gate, but quickly do the trademark Witsend acoustic shift, transitioning briefly to a vocal number that has a bit of a Kansas flavor, before blasting off again into the prog rock cosmos, this time with a heavy rockin' ELP feel. But enough of the analogies. We're only 5 minutes into the album and already I'm sensing that the decade since their debut has seen a quantum leap in compositional sophistication, while retaining the fundamental character and melodic beauty that made Cosmos And Chaos such an enjoyable album. Syzygy are all over the place... shifting gears every couple minutes... but again, it transitions and flows seamlessly. Baldassarre has some guitar moments that made my head spin. And as a band these guys are tight as a knot.
The next two tracks make up the equally lengthy "In The Age Of Mankind", a high energy work that bears the trademark Witsend/Syzygy sound, but includes elements of Genesis, ELP and good old powerhouse Rock. Baldassarre really lets his hair down on this album and isn't afraid to rip it up on the fretboard, and his bandmates have no trouble keeping up. The guitar and keyboards duel one another during the intense workout segments, propelled by Mihacevich's relentless drumming. In fact, this reminds me a lot of Echolyn's first couple albums. Phenomenal playing that turns on a dime and hugs the curves without skidding an inch. And all the same applause goes to "The Journey Of Myrrdin", yet another epic length piece that rounds out the set. I liked the combination of metallic influences and 70's prog stylings on this one.
In summary, The Allegory Of Light is exactly what one would hope for from a band who is following up a strong debut a full decade later... the basic sound is intact, but the band members have clearly grown as composers and musicians. And while there are lots of acoustic moments, this sucker rocks harder. Highest recommendation to progheads. Get both CD's.
For more information you can visit the Syzygy web site at: http://www.syzygymusic.com.
Contact via snail mail c/o Syzygy; PO Box 5082; Mentor, OH 44061-5082.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz