(Andy Synn wrote this review of the new album by Astronoid from Boston.)
Previously unknown to me (though the band have, prior to this, released a total of two EPs and one stand-alone single), I’ve been seeing the name “Astronoid” popping up on my radar quite a lot recently, as the release of their debut full-length album Air seems to have caused something of a stirring in certain circles.
And rightfully so, as it’s an incredibly captivating, instantly infectious album, practically bursting at the seams with some of the most gloriously emotive melodies and shamelessly enervating riffage I’ve heard this year.
But I wasn’t entirely certain it was NCS material.
In fact I’m still not.
But, screw it, I’m going to review it anyway.
Photo by Liz Teal Fairbanks
Don’t get me wrong, the band definitely namecheck many of the right references, mentioning such acts as Devin Townsend, Alcest, and Cynic as being amongst their primary influences.
But they also mention artists such as The Smashing Pumpkins, Jesu, and Danish Indie/Alterna-rockers Mew as key inspirations, and this, along with what seems like a strong influence from the more emotive, heart-on-sleeve, end of Post-Hardcore (“Obsolete”, for example, comes across a little like a high-tech hybrid of Enslaved’s potent Prog-Metal and From Autumn To Ashes at their most impassioned), had me a little apprehensive as to how they might be received by our readers.
After all, the name of the site is “No Clean Singing”, not “gorgeous clean sung melodies filled with heartache and yearning”!
Still, I trust our audience to generally be able to approach anything I recommend with at least a semblance of an open mind, and if you’re a fan of any of the artists mentioned above there’s a good chance you’ll fall in love with Astronoid as well.
If clean vocals aren’t usually your thing, of course, then this may not be the album for you, as each and every line is delivered as a soaring display of melody and harmony, and if you’re the kind of person who finds Impaled Nazarene to be “entirely too polished” (trust me, I know a few of them), then Air probably won’t sit right with you either, as every song, every massive, crystal-clear riff, practically shines with its own internal light.
But oh, what wondrous riffs they are. I mean, these guys can play, that’s for sure, and every track, from the majestic opening pairing of “Incandescent” and the tech-tastic “Up and Atom” (bonus points for that reference), all the way through to exhilarating closer “Trail of Sulfur”, is practically a tailor-made tribute to the band’s flair for nimble, nuanced fretwork and gleaming melodic hooks.
And though there’s nothing grim or grimy about Air (the artwork alone should have tipped you off to that), that doesn’t make it a lightweight listening experience. It has a power and intensity all its own, even employing a plethora of lightning-swift blastbeats – see the galloping “Resin” for a prime example – not in a display of aggression, but as an expression of sheer, almost joyful, energy.
If it’s not clear by now, I’ve very much fallen in love with is album, even though it’s actually quite hard for me to fully define. In fact I’m not sure I entirely have the correct vocabulary to ascribe the right genre to it (though the band themselves refer to their music, with tongue firmly pressed in cheek, as “Dream Thrash”).
Certainly there’s an underlying Black Metal influence at play, particularly of the proggy and/or “Post” variety (though we really have to start thinking of a better descriptor one of these days). but there’s absolutely nothing “blackened” or “kvlt” about Astronoid’s music, not really, so you can all put your knives away on that score.
And although there’s also a host of other influences at work here, from Prog to Shoegaze to Dream-Pop, and a number of comparisons which can be made – “Tin Foil Hats”, for example, sounds like the Enslaved/Coheed and Cambria collaboration you never knew you wanted, while the spellbinding title-track melds the bombast of Devin Townsend at his most grandiose with the emotional eloquence of Alcest at their most ethereal – these are really only useful as signposts to guide the listener on their journey.
Because, when all is said and done, Air simply doesn’t sound quite like anything else I’ve heard this year, or any other in recent memory. It’s an album of pure, irrepressible energy and vigour, wholly and shamelessly uplifting, with no regard for genre boundaries or the external impositions of what “should” be done.
What a ride. What a rush.
Air is available from Finland’s Blood Music on Bandcamp, as a download for a price you name or in a six-panel digipack CD edition.