Syzygy – The Allegory of Light

The Allegory of Light

Look back to the early 90′s; progressive rock had met an existential crisis, the ‘Neo’ wave of progressive bands were in steady decline, and the bands making the boldest statements in prog tended to be metal. It’s not the ideal scenario for a vintage-inspired progressive rock band to get their headstart, but it didn’t stop the US proggers Witsend and their 1993 debut, “Cosmos and Chaos”. Weighting inventive instrumental prog and nylon-string classical guitar pieces in equal measure, Witsend’s debut showed a young band with plenty of potential. Alas, Witsend disappeared, and nothing was heard of them until a decade later, when they reappeared as Syzygy. Although “The Allegory of Light” is now ten years old (thus making the story of Witsend twenty years aged at this point), its importance to the development and artistic maturation of Syzygy cannot be underrated. Syzygy’s technically second album witnesses some marked improvements in the band’s skill and craft, and though Syzygy’s second effort has still not sold me entirely on what they’re all about, there’s no denying it; Syzygy are one of the most technically skilled bands among the US prog revival.

It’s no surprise that a band would have experienced some degree of evolution and improvement over a ten year period, and that certainly rings true for Syzygy’s return to the scene. Although Witsend had an impressive grasp of technical skill and musicality on “Cosmos and Chaos”, there’s a notable improvement in the way Syzygy play together. While the debut focused moreso on a balanced mix between traditional prog and Carl Baldassarre’s nylon guitar pieces, “The Allegory of Light” puts a marked focus on their more complex and band-oriented side. Although there’s a smattering of vocals throughout the album (provided here by Baldassarre himself), Syzygy capitalizes on their instrumental merits. Without the burden of making room for vocal parts, “The Allegory of Light” blossoms as a demonstration of technical might and tightness. Syzygy’s take on progressive rock is far too hooked on vintage tradition to call it entirely ‘modern’, they’re clearly aware of some of the scene’s more recent developments. Though not metal by any means, Syzygy infuse their proggy observations with a grit and technical muster very rarely seen in the old days. The solo work of Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett is a close comparison to make with the sound these guys go for, although given the added modern edge, it wouldn’t be out of place to compare Syzygy to progressive supergroup Transatlantic.

Although “The Allegory of Light” glows with the impressive chops of the musicians involved, Syzygy doesn’t earn points on the side of originality. Although their production standard and extent of technicality give slight indications as to their modernity, Syzygy are locked in territory that should be familiar to progressive rock fans. Especially when they go fully instrumental, they often skirt the boundary between the lighter, lush and symphonic side of things, and the complex, tech-savvy end of the spectrum. It seems every major band that came out of the traditional progressive scene navigated this same territory to some extent, and though it’s doubtful that there were too many bands outside of King Crimson and Gentle Giant that assumed Syzygy’s focus on technicality, the fact remains that it’s something that’s been heard before, long before the days of Witsend, even. Homage to the glory days of progressive rock is precisely what Syzygy are wanting to do however; their expressed desire to celebrate a so-called ‘dying art form’ sheds some light on what they have tried to do with “The Allegory of Light”. While not exploring beyond the set boundaries, Syzygy are flourishing within them.

The compositions are often dense and challenging, no doubt for the musicians involved but also for the listeners. By contrast, Syzygy’s sound becomes incredibly easy listening whenever they offer room for Carl Baldassarre’s voice. Sparing “Forbidden”- which itself makes for a fairly enjoyable acoustic ballad with a comfortable dose of melancholy – Syzygy’s approach is not particularly well-suited to welcoming vocals. While Carl’s voice is not weak, his singing is a little thin, and adds little to the musical experience. Indeed, Syzygy sound most inspired when they’re doing what they love most; creating the impression of a symphony through rock instruments. Unlike “Cosmos and Chaos” which featured a fairly marked emphasis on Baldassarre’s guitar playing, the instrumentation on “The Allegory of Light” feels remarkably well-balanced between the musicians. There are great things to be said about all three, but Paul Mihacevich’s drumwork stands out the post this time around, providing a surprisingly dramatic and theatrical flair with his lively percussion.

From a technical standpoint, there’s very little of an ill nature that can be said about Syzygy and their performances on “The Allegory of Light”. Their technicality sheds light on three lifetimes of studious practice and skill-building, and it most certainly reflects in the music itself. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of taste that I prefer to have heard less of what naysayers might call ‘noodling’, but Syzygy’s focus on technical chops and complexity only partially scratches my musical itch. For all of the instrumental tightness and compositional bombast, Syzygy feel held back by their devotion to progressive tradition. While “The Allegory of Light” may be a more technically impressive album than, say, Steve Hackett’s “The Voyage of the Acolyte”, Hackett’s album stands out more to me through its use of melody and when to pull back. Much like “Cosmos and Chaos”, I am hearing the potential for musical brilliance, but it doesn’t quite reach its mark. I find myself connecting to the music on an intellectual level, but not emotionally.

Although Syzygy made an objective improvement here when compared to their old days as Witsend, I cannot say that I am any more touched as a listener. For all of its technical wizardry and signs of brilliance, “The Allegory of Light” still feels like a relatively dry take on the tried-and-true progressive rock formula. There are ideas and orchestrations here that could have swept me away, but these standout moments are never given room enough to breathe; for every moment I’m impressed or stirred, there’s an idea following swiftly behind it to kill the momentum. Ultimately, it’s an unfortunate case of the result not adding up to the sum of its parts. While “The Allegory of Light” seems to fall into a typical progressive rock rut of wanting to sound ambitious without taking the necessary risks, there is no denying that Syzygy have one of the tightest performance standards you’re bound to find in the US prog canon. Lovers of instrumental progressive rock will find plenty of gems here. It’s not a smooth ride, but if the taste suits your palette, it’s certainly worthwhile.


1. M.O.T.H. (11:20)
2. Beggar:s tale (2:47)
3. Distant light (5:35)
4. Zinjanthropus (12:31)
5. Industryopolis (6:33)
6. Forbidden (3:22)
7. Light speed (2:58)
8. The journey of Myrrdin (17:29)


* Carl Baldassarre – guitars, guitar synth, bass, vocals
* Sam Giunta – piano, synthesizers
* Paul Mihacevich – drums, percussion, vocals

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