The UK trio who Bast popped lots of eyes wide open with their 2014 debut album Spectres, but they’ve outdone themselves with their second full-length, Nanoångström, and we have the great good fortune of presenting a full stream of the record on the verge of its release by Black Bow Records.
That trio — vocalist/guitarist Craig Bryant, drummer/vocalist Jon Lee, and bassist Gavin Thomas — have created a ceaselessly fascinating and immensely powerful experience through an alloy of sludge, doom, black metal, and progressive metal. In the band’s words, “Nanoångström continues our trajectory into narrative-driven arrangements and experimental compositions; set against a bleak science fiction backdrop, it explores the human conditions of loss, isolation, and change in the wake of time’s passage.”
Save for the mysterious and ominous opening instrumental (“Distant Suns”), the songs are quite long, ranging from roughly 10 minutes to more than 12 1/2. But all of them have a chameleon-like quality, marked by frequent changes of pace, rhythm, and emotional resonance, and equally marked by a sense of urgency in both the gloomiest passages and the most luminous. They do indeed have a narrative feeling, and like any masterfully crafted tale, they keep you on the edge of your seat, eager to discover what will happen next. And thus, those long minutes pass quickly for the listener; the music has a powerful capacity to draw you in and carry you away.
There is a great temptation to comment on each of the six tracks, one-by-one, but so much happens in each song that attempting to chart the course of each one in detail would become a tedious exercise, and attempting to sum up each one in a sentence or two would be impossible (or would at least sell them short). So let’s say instead that across the vast breadth of the album the music is night-dark, granite-heavy, bright and vibrant, tension-filled and desolate, mystical and monumental. At times it oozes misery from every pore, at others it seems wistful or yearning; and it also soars and surges in a spirit of grim defiance and hopeless majesty.
Long, groaning chords and punishing percussive hammer blows might bring a heavy mantle of doom upon you, but the band are equally capable of sending gleaming and burning spirals of guitar melody out into the void or hurtling ahead in an attack of blasting drums and seething tremolo riffs. The music reaches heights of tremendous, soul-splintering intensity, and descends into apocalyptic abysses of madness and despair.
There is indeed a remarkably dynamic, experimental aspect to the way in which Bast have composed and executed these songs, but it’s worth emphasizing that opportunities to vigorously bob your head are never far away; Bast have a talent for locking into riffs and rhythms that are physically compulsive, and then exploring variations on the themes while keeping your head going hard. There’s an instrumental segment in the first half of the title track that’s a prime example of that, but it happens at multiple points in every song.
Just as the music is remarkably dynamic, so too are the vocals — but, unlike the music, they never become light or meditative. A mix of savage fury and terrible pain and desolation, the vocals are incredibly intense, ranging from vicious roars to scalding howls, from throat-scraping shrieks to gritty, baying cries and cavernous growls. The vocal variety, which includes a pairing of harsh snarling and soaring clean singing in “The Beckoning Void”, is augmented by a guest appearance from Chris Naughton of Winterfylleth in that track and in the remarkable closing track “The Ghosts Which Haunt the Space Between the Stars”.
That closing track is the longest of all. It is perhaps the most heavily “blackened” of all as well, though it also rocks hard and slows to a ponderous, staggering lurch. It reaches spectacular heights of resilience, but the album ends not on a fireburst but in the deep shadows, with slow solitary bass notes and the whisper of distant winds. It’s an ending that in my case made me want to listen to everything all over again, without delay.
Nanoångström includes artwork designed and directed by the band’s Craig Bryant, and it also features an exclusive piece by Manga luminary Shintaro Kago. It’s available to pre-order from Black Bow on CD and in a limited edition 12-inch double LP (250 copies of the “Hyperspeed” variant and 250 of AA Red Line Through Black”_.
The album was produced by Chris Fielding at Skyhammer Studio, and it really does sound great.