When I first started the website for The Prog Mind, there was another writer who covered many of the more eccentric offerings, Daniel Hay. He can still be seen under our “About Us” section, but he went inactive for various reasons, one of which was his desire to focus on his new band, The Dark Third. Well, the debut album, “Even As the Light Grows”, is finally releasing on August 19th, and I’m seriously impressed by what this band offers.
The Dark Third hails from New Zealand, the one place on Earth I feel I must visit before I die. The band who recorded this album consists of Daniel Hay on vocals, piano, guitar, organ; Tommy Leigh on guitar; Christan Pianta on bass guitar; Alika Wells on saxophones (alto, tenor, baritone) and backing vocals; and Tim Doyle on drums, percussion, and backing vocals. You will also hear Grace McKenzie on violin on some songs. After recording, Tommy and Christan departed the band, so Denys Matveev on bass and Luiz Paganelli on guitar are in the official lineup right now.
I expected that Daniel would be bringing an eclectic, outside-the-box style of music, and I was not disappointed. The musical style is very eccentric, finding its footing in climactic progressive rock structures, fuzzy vocal ambience, magnificent piano passages, and a folk presence, if I can call it that. You will also hear hints of what I would call black metal influence (not in heaviness, but in structure), as well as some very cinematic and even cacophonous sections. If you need some anchors for all of that, I would point to Anathema, Mice on Stilts, Alcest, and maybe even Kayo Dot as influences and touchstones for the style on this album.
All of this is brought together with drops of darkness and lots of atmosphere. Daniel’s vocals are smooth, pure, and even whimsical at times. Daniel and Tommy’s guitars are purposeful, with hints of shoegaze and post-rock tendencies. Christan’s bass is full and gives some warmth where needed, but it’s really Tim’s drums that make this album more lively than it would be otherwise. Alika’s sax work is also fantastic, maintaining presence and effect nicely.
This album is one that takes time to grow and worm its way inside your mind. The mix of genres never feels forced, but it can take a few listens to process and separate, certainly. Once you understand the band’s goal, the music really makes sense, as I completely expect from Daniel; offering sublime song structures, imaginative textures, and a calculated flow from song to song. Since there are only five songs present, let me address each one individually.
“The Dreams of Lesser Men” opens and is a good representative for the whole album. It begins the album on a cacophonous note, as if to weed out the weak-minded. Fear not, though, as it launches into a progressive rock sound that is gentle and evocative. It’s strange because the music rocks pretty hard, but is also notably tender. So while there are blast beats and kinetic sections and edge, the music always feels effervescent, peaceful, and hovering. I think that is in part due to the wonderful piano work throughout the song and album.
“These Things are not Inherent” follows, and introduces one aspect of this album not all that present in the opening track: the saxophones. Similar to Mice on Stilts, you will hear plenty of sax on this album, but not really used in the traditional “jazzy” fashion. Instead, a variety of saxophones are used almost like a rhythm guitar (though, those are present, too) or even like keyboards to be an integral part of the music, adding a meaty layer that feels folksy and fanciful, but I’m not really sure those are the correct words.
The last three tracks pass like a blur. “Erewhon”, my favorite, continues the overall sound of the previous track, joining it with ambient vocal portions, too. You will also hear wonderfully gritty violin that plays off the saxophone so well. I love the climactic shoegazey guitar near the end that is enhanced by the sax musings, and I love how everything launches into a fantastic instrumental to end the song. “The Regressor” has this lower, gruffer guitar lick that drives the whole track, making it darker and more subliminal. It also has one of the best choruses on the album. Finally, “Waking” feels appropriately named, almost like an ascent to light after the darker tone of “The Regressor”. It ends the album with a short and pleasant fade to grace.
The Dark Third is everything I thought it might be, but also not what I was expecting. The band has carved their own niche, not sounding much like any other band out there, but also featuring familiar sounds that will make you feel right at home. Their debut has some absolutely stunning moments, and I feel like the prog community can welcome them very warmly, especially if we are willing to put some work into grasping the music.