Band: Light | Album: The Path | Genre: Progressive rock, RIO, Chamber music | Year: 2023
From: Toulouse, France | Label: Independent
For fans of: iamthemorning, Van der Graaf Generator, Univers Zero
Years ago, I ran across a poll on the ProgArchives forums asking what the most important instrument in a (progressive) rock band is. It’s obviously not guitars or keys, as ELP and mid-career King Crimson demonstrate, respectively. Neither Van der Graaf Generator nor Atomic Rooster had a bassist in their classic lineups. So that’s why I ultimately chose “drums” in that poll. What makes rock music rock music is its rhythm. Ditch the percussion, and it’s difficult to make something feel like rock music.
I bring this anecdote up because for about the first twenty-ish minutes of Light’s debut album, The Path, there is almost no percussion. (Side note, the generic nature of the names of both the band and the album made this a bit of a challenge to find.) This album opens in a manner which feels more like classical or chamber music. As the record progresses, though, more traditional prog influences are brought in.
The Path opens with the 14-minute “Seekness”. A synth drone slowly builds, and it eventually becomes a pulsing pattern. The percussion here is quite rock-like, as strings eerily swoop over it. However, it all suddenly stops around the five-minute mark, and this song moves in a direction heavily influenced by jazz and modern classical music. There are some very pretty passages, and the way woodwinds, strings, and piano interact is highly emotive. However, it does drag on for a while. This song could have been cut down by a couple minutes. Musical ideas linger too long, and there’s a degree of aimlessness.
Following the wholly unnecessary 90-second interlude “Cornua”, “The Sweet Release of Death” is another piece which draws heavily from modern classical music. Woodwinds and idiophones lend this track a fittingly spooky aura to match its name. However, much like “Seekness”, this song is simply too long. It doesn’t do nearly enough to justify its length. This would probably be fine as background music, but there’s not much to focus on.
“Blue Sun” is where the album finally gets going. A Magma-inspired piano line and wind instruments out of a Gryphon album build up to a charmingly off-kilter groove. Jazz and Porcupine Tree-style prog mingle well here, and I love the synth and electric piano tones. The vocals are strong when they come in, and it all leads to a satisfying climax.
“Tibia” is another unnecessary interlude, but “Betray” is the song that got me interested in this record. (I was recommended the music video for it on YouTube, by the surrealist animator Cyriak, best known for his mind-melting videos from around 2010.) It starts off as a smoky piece of vocal jazz, but there’s an irregular wooziness to the rhythm. As the song reaches its midpoint, flavors of zeuhl and RIO come to the front, with looming sax. The mood turns downright sinister, and the saxophones and drums drive this along.
The opening moments of “Newts” sounds like it could have been lifted off some piano-pop record, though it soon moves fully toward classical music. Piano, flute, and woodwinds combine quite nicely. Parts of it almost feel like they could have fit on Even in the Quietest Moments. Despite building to quite a nice solo, this song does suffer from The Path’s usual bloat. This is followed by another brief, pointless interlude.
Piano, pipes, and zither start “The Sublimation of an Oak”. This track heavily channels Gentle Giant and Gryphon in its Medieval aura. It’s dark and spooky, and it devolves into some wonderful, reedy madness in its second half. The interlude that follows this is a 90-second drum solo, and it’s actually pretty decent.
“Dive” is the second-longest song on the album, at just a hair under 14 minutes. A marching beat and lush, watery wind instruments and keys cultivate an atmosphere befitting the song title. I’m also fond of the multilayered vocal arrangements in the early part of this song. This song’s midsection is composed primarily of classical music. There’s a lot of tension here, and I am again quite impressed with how intricate everything is. Unfortunately, this again goes on for longer than necessary. Thankfully, it resolves into a powerful, enthralling guitar solo that acts as a fitting capstone to this opus.
The next proper song, “Mesmerize” has a rhythm and atmosphere that strongly reminds me of “Meurglys III”. Rumbling piano and a mournful woodwinds give this track an ominous feel, and at only three minutes long, it feels like an appropriate length.
“Burning Birds” follows fluidly. A slow and steady piano line underpins some string instruments that call to mind the long, echoing notes of whale calls. This song shouldn’t be seven minutes, though. Three minutes would have been adequate. The Path ends on “Lux Aeterna”, a rather aimless few minutes of choir arrangements.
The Path has a lot of good ideas on it. It’s an incredibly smooth blend of progressive rock with chamber music, and the inclusions of dark, atonal jazz elements go a long way in keeping this record fresh. However, this record is also way too long. There’s a lot of bloat to The Path. This isn’t bad as background music, but if you’re intently listening to it, you’re probably going to find yourself growing bored at moments.