Entering the progressive community as an artist can be a daunting task. Some artists seem to come alive at that moment, providing us with a mature, vibrant piece of their souls that will live on for years, almost as if they don’t care what we think anyways. Other artists, unfortunately, seem to force themselves into treading the path of progressive clichés, and their debut ends up going by mostly unnoticed. Often enough, this is a true shame, as the band still has great ideas and lots of ambition, but many of them give up after that initial failure.
The debut from Soul Doubt is an album that unfortunately falls into the latter category. Released on December 15th last year, “The Dance of Light and Shade” is an album with so much going for it, but there is also such an attempt to be “progressive”, that many of their best ideas are buried. The band has been around for many years, but this debut is only just now seeing the light.
Soul Doubt hails from Italy, and the band includes Marco Ciancaglini on vocals, acoustic and classic guitars, orchestrations, some keys, Irish folk and stupid whistles; Federico Benini on 5-string bass, fretless bass, synths and pads, programming, and sound design; Nicola Casamenti on lead guitars; Marco Calbi on guitars; Ale D’Altri on drums; and Francesca Pretolani on piano, keyboards, and lead synths. Guests include: Emma Ronca and Jennifer Vargas on vocals, and Davide lavia on keys.
Musically speaking, “The Dance of Light and Shade” is somewhat difficult to peg. The album itself feels something like a rock opera that flows from song to song to tell a sprawling story, and it clocks in at one hour and 45 minutes long. It has lots of progressive metal elements, but the album is so big and expansive that prog metal becomes only one element along with prog rock, electronic, and ambient music. There are lots of ethereal synth moments and spacey Pink Floydian portions, but there are also plenty of rubber-meets-the-road metal moments and soaring guitar solos. The album is quite theatrical and cinematic in its presentation, too. In terms of variety, the album is definitely not stuck in a rut: It almost feels like Pain of Salvation in that way.
I have several favorite moments throughout this long album, but only a few tracks stand out as a whole. “Elysian” is a wonderfully emotional track with a fantastic chorus, and the “Waking Dreams” duo of tracks are both great, but “Swing of Lights” is quite electronic and ethereal, and launches into some great rocking guitar licks, too. There are also three Interludes in the second half that I rather like, as I’m a sucker for that sort of thing. “Danse Macabre”, however, is the most memorable track on the album. It is rather theatrical and has some of the heavier moments here, and I always look forward to it.
You will notice, though, that most of my favorite tracks are in the first half of this nearly two hour album. This is one of those debuts, unfortunately, that just isn’t going to stick all that much. The reason has less to do with the quality of the music and more to do with the over the top nature of the offering. Individual songs here are all great and sound wonderful, and there are several memorable moments. However, those moments are lost in the length and sheer ambition of this album. It’s easy to get lost and start checking your watch to see how long it’s going to last, only to realize you aren’t even halfway done. I wouldn’t necessarily say there is too much “filler” here, but there are definitely parts that are much weaker that could have been removed.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again right here: Sometimes restraint and self-editing is what can impress an album more on listeners’ minds than any amount of bombast or over-writing. Unfortunately, there is tons of great material here, but I don’t think this album will make much of a mark because most people will not want to sit through it more than once, if even that.
I feel like this album has material enough for two, which means there is not much in the way of filler, but also means that there may be too much to absorb and just too much here to grab our focus. I understand that double albums and long epics are the prog “thing”, but I feel like clichés like that are disappearing, and thank God for that. This particular album probably could have ended and the follow up begun at the first interlude, which is almost halfway through the album.
Who am I to question an artist, though? Soul Doubt has offered up lots of great ideas and a shocking amount of genre variety in this their debut, and I’m very impressed by their skill and their production quality. At some point, though, the album begins to drag, and the great ideas start to get further apart, unfortunately. I really believe this band can produce a true progressive masterpiece, but it will require self-editing and a little restraint to get there.