The song “Thalassas” by In the Presence of Wolves is, in fine progressive rock tradition, an epic that plays out over three tracks. Over nearly 15 minutes, it spans driving hard rock with complex timing, alternately cascading and hypnotic guitar riffs and ferocious stops-and-starts to jazzy passages and a somber solo piano interlude.
It started off as sort of a joke amongst the members: Every prog-rock band has a song in two or three parts. But the Central Jersey-based trio doesn’t take that mantle lightly, and in the end the composition became the title track(s) for their debut album.
“We wouldn’t have written a three-part song if that’s not what it wanted to be,” insisted bassist Vini Stamato. “Being progressive rock means we can do whatever we want to do. There are no limits.”
What was much more purposeful was the band’s initial decision to dive headfirst into more complex, harder-edged music: an especially conscious choice for a group whose hometown didn’t exactly provide them with many peers.
“The Jersey scene is very pop-punk, hardcore and ska,” said Stamato. “We’d played in those bands, but it wasn’t really what we were attracted to, even though they were high-profile.”
Armed with a love of bands like Rush, Porcupine Tree and Tool, and their own riffs to match, In the Presence of Wolves found an adopted home in Philadelphia. It wasn’t quite as bustling as the packed all-ages shows in Central Jersey, but it was much more receptive.
“We were playing with hard rock bands, and the reaction to our music there was really good,” said Stamato.
That culminated with the Thalassas album, which came out last November. Since then, the band has played as far north as Boston and as far west as Ohio. And, that’s just beginning.
“Thalassas did what a first album is supposed to do: get us on people’s radar,” explained Stamato. “The second album has to really do something.”
Already, the band is writing with more ambition. “The recording for the last one was straight through, getting everything done and being precise,” explained Stamato. Now, “We want to be in a new head space, more experimental.”
And, they plan to double down on their progress with longer tours to new places when it comes out. It represents a shift from starting out playing prog rock for the fun of it, to making it into something more serious. “I’ve sort of had this epiphany: it’s time now,” said Stamato. “Over the past four or five months, we’ve been going at it as hard as we can, and that’s what we’re going to continue doing.”
In The Presence of Wolves performs at the Roadhouse Inn, 2200 New Falls Road in Levittown, on Dec. 3. For information, visit www.inthepresenceofwolves.com.