Review Summary: “The apple doesn't fall far from the pear. Well, guess what?! Grandma needs a new pair of shoes!”
Many teenagers have gone through it, and certainly most people have heard of it: the infamous high school band phase. It's a concept much too familiar. Your angst kicks in, your parents don't understand you, and the only way to express it is through music. While many legendary bands have been born through similar instances (like Minor Threat), there have also been many face-palm and cringe inducing attempts at doing so, even though they may think their sound works. It's no wonder most people despise talking about those stark times.
Now, meet Next to None. Hailing from the mythical land of Pennsylvania, they are composed of Max Portnoy (son of THE Portnoy) on drums, Thomas Cuce on keyboards/vocals, Derrick Schneider on guitar, and Kris Rank on bass. Their average age is about 18. They've been deeply influenced by acts such as Slipknot, Korn, and, you guessed it, Dream Theater.
This band fits many of the high school band phase requirements. Prog metal and nu-metal influences are clearly visible, their ages are on point, and they sound very enthusiastic towards their music. For instance, when talking about this album, Next to None said they “feel it's a huge step forward for the band and shows a much heavier and much more technical side.” However, there is a huge difference between them and most teen bands; technically speaking, they are incredibly talented. This is the truest in Mini Portnoy’s case, showcasing very tight and solid drumming. Heck, he does some stuff that really spices things up, like the unique use of electronic percussion on the beginning of “Answer Me.” The rest of the members prove themselves as well, as they accurately play highly challenging time signatures and melodies at a blinding pace for extended amounts of time. They also manage to incorporate various elements of metal, such as the much parodied djent. Having such aptitude at their age is, honestly, quite impressive.
Next to None have an ample amount of resources, that's for sure. The problem is they try to use all of them at once which makes their sound crash under all its aspirations. It gets tiring to hear songs with such mashed up ideas, even more when they fill an album almost 80 minutes long. Not only did they create exactly the latter, but they also pulled every cliche in the damn book. Most of the passages sound like your typical post-hardcore band; boring and uninspired. The album is basically packed with every melodic metalcore routine ever heard. For example, check the chorus for “Apple.” Don't even let me get started on the loose string spamming, which is using the open top string to death like many djent bands have done already. They also made Phases all the more convoluted due to the overuse of odd times and bland wankery. As if this wasn't enough, they also had the brilliant idea of incorporating some cheap memes from the Internet, going as far as quoting Filthy Frank and others. Sometimes, the immaturity made it to the lyrics, making for some truly awful one-liners. This spectacle is mostly seen on “kek” (that name, ugh). It really is just a thrown up, disorganized mess.
With all that said, it is still creditable what Next to None are doing morally. Getting out there in the music industry is quite hard, even more when the average age of your band is 18, and deserves respect. But, alas, honesty is necessary. Even though this wasn't a homerun, I agree with them on something: Phases is indeed a huge step forward for the band. If they keep it up, work on their songwriting, and try to branch out, they could eventually find a sound that is as convincing as their technicality. Only time will tell if that will become true. For now, they just stand in the shadows of their inspirations.