Two thousand eighteen seems to be off to a great start in instrumental progressive music. I have several albums that I’m enjoying right now, and the first I’m reviewing is the debut from Into the Great Divide. The self-titled release is a massive undertaking that impresses in several ways.
Into the Great Divide hails from New York, NY, and their sound is distinctly American, as a result. The contributors include mastermind Zack Zalon on guitar, bass, and keys; the legendary Mike Mangini on drums; Richard Chycki as producer; Brendon Cassidy on orchestral arrangements; and Larry Davis on narration. That line up is pretty atypical, so let me explain why that is.
“Into the Great Divide” is unique in that every other track is a spoken word intro that sets the tone and setting for the following instrumental track. I will be the first to admit, however, that spoken word can come across as a little cheesy or exaggerated, though the voice actor himself may do a really good job. On this album, it’s almost as if he was trying to emulate a self-help cassette or something like that. If that is what he wanted to do, then he did a great job.
The music itself is fully instrumental and rides the line between progressive metal and prog rock. There are lots of polyrhythms and epic keys, and the passages wind and riff their way to great soaring heights. There are more subdued rock tracks, as well. In a way, I’m reminded of Zero Hour in the particular style, only with much more space and attention to melody. You’ll hear portions that will remind you more of classic rock or 80s metal, with giant solos and galloping riffs; but then other tracks are far more sophisticated and ethereal, with delicate piano and backing orchestrations.
Thematically, the album explores the ideas of conquering your past while casting a daring eye to the future and the life that awaits you. Yes, it is one of empowerment, grit, and struggle, and I appreciate the well-written nature of the wording. I like how it doesn’t pretend that any of its ideas will be easy. There are entire tracks dedicated to failure and struggle. By the end of the album, we learn that the struggle and fight are the point of living, not whatever destination you may achieve. It is the fight that makes you who you are.
One thing that I love about this album is how Zack has oriented the music to this theme rather well. Whether in quiet moments of solitude and introspection or in valiant portions of victory and rejoicing, the tracks each explore their respective ideas with grace and purpose. It is a rare thing to find instrumental music that is thematically driven so well.
While all the tracks glow vibrantly, I have a few favorites. “A Call to Adventure” is a very cinematic, orchestral track that relishes quiet moments as much as the bombastic. “Tests & Enemies” is a vibrant track with a great central guitar lick and the feeling of daily battle. “Challenge Accepted” follows and is a vividly victorious track. It’s not victorious as if the battle is over, but it rejoices in the fact that the struggle has been undertaken, and that is half the fight anyways. “Mist in the Sun” is a piano-driven piece that is short but beautiful.
My favorite track is “Dark Waters”. It is deep and murky, and there is this stuttering guitar lick that feels amazing. I’m not sure if the stuttering sound, maybe more of a glitching noise, is from effects or done manually. I really like it. The album also ends with “And So It Ends”, a grandly cinematic track that feels hopeful and nostalgic.
Overall, Into the Great Divide has created a wonderful debut album that touches on themes that will reach just about everyone. The music is powerful and cinematic, and will leave an impression on you. Take a dive into this journey. You won’t regret it.