The dials they forever turn
The name Scardust has reached my ears a few times and I’ve been wanting to make time to properly dive into their music for a few months now. And with the upcoming re-release of their debut album “Sands of Time”, the stars were finally in position. Scardust was often mentioned as the “leading progressive metal band in Israel” and once you hit “play”, it becomes very clear why. Opening the album with a massive epic “title track” that is actually split into 5 different songs, they take the listener by storm from the very beginning. And they easily live up to the initial hype!
Trying to capture what these guys are doing musically in a review and making it shorter than a novel is a challenge to say the least. So I’ll just have a crack at what my limited mind could take in through a few listens. I feel that their music is the very definition of “peaks and valleys”, both compositionally and emotionally. They’re constantly shifting the pace, energy, attitude and overall personality of this album so that every once in a while it morphs into an entirely different character. And all these shifts maintain a seamless cohesion between them. There are tons of hooks and catchy melodies that get under your skin from the very first audition and these will certainly be ringing in your head, calling you back to the album again and again, but it will take a bit of patience until you uncover the whole world that they created. All their solos are incredible whether it’s on guitars, keys, bass and even some crazy drum spotlights. Not only are they all incredibly technical but they have a great way of dedicating certain parts of a song to one particular instrument without disrupting the flow of the music. But what always worries me about a band that goes deep into prog and technical stuff is that they can at times kill the musicality and get sidetracked into irrelevant mumbo-jumbo. Scardust does not do that! Even to say that they have a balance worked out between musicality and progressiveness would be an understatement. They can actually use odd times, tempo changes and unpredictable ruptures in rhythm to enhance the dynamic of the music and create a vivid sense of movement and action! It’s beyond cinematic!
I really feel the need to address each component of this album on its own. Starting from the groundwork, it’s the drums that come first and what I noticed here is that Yoav Weinberg (drummer) has no shame in just keeping a beat that doesn’t flash out but he can work intricate details and fills around it to fill out any blank space with extra flavor. But when the moment comes to blast, he’s gonna dive deep into prog patterns that twist your brains into a knot! Also he has a fantastic way of piecing together the “in your face” with the intricacy, at times playing both at the same time (his breakdowns with a dash of polyrhythm are the most juicy head-banging thing). Moving further up the soundscape we meet Yanai Avnet (bass) and Yadin Moyal (guitar) and here it’s time to go metal! But while they’re no strangers to some good chugging and pounding, the intricacy once again takes over, many of the riffs reminding me of the early years of Symphony X. Also there’s some serious Michael Romeo DNA in some of the guitar licks (see intro to Queen of Insanity below). However, that bass dude is my hero. He has so many solos and all of them are so full of character and energy that he shamelessly steals the show. I think the only bands I heard before where the bass was such a star are Ne Obliviscaris and Beyond Creation. Only this guy’s style is less fluid and a bit more jazzy and slapping (like Dream Theater on ecstasy).
Now just as well as these blokes master their instrument’s strings, vocalist Noa Gruman messes with your heartstrings! She has to be one of the most versatile singers in the observable universe, going from pop-rock style to opera and even death metal screaming, plus a few things that are most likely from the future. Her range defies known human limitations and the power and sustain she can deliver even at the highest peaks is jaw-dropping! But it’s not the vocal performance itself that impresses me as much as the engaging charisma and diversity in expression that she covers. Whether it’s delicate emotions, bombastic belting, menacing power and even a lot of drama, it’s all in there and it’s delivered at the highest possible standard. And she really connects with the instrumental, adjusting the power and even the texture of her voice to either match or contrast with the background. Plus there are some scarily beautiful acapella snippets where she actually seems to build up the momentum for the instrument to kick back in.
Scardust is just as much symphonic as it is progressive and that starts with the keyboards that use very diverse tones as well as pure piano sound to match all the mood swings that the music takes and also bring a good share of solos to the table because why not! There’s also great use of violins and viola that transports you straight into classical music and also gets an oriental flavor (see the very beginning of the album). But I think the most crucial part of what makes “Sands of Time” truly symphonic is the choir. Going by the name of Hellscore Accapella, there is a whole army of vocal warriors (or at least they sound like one) that is conducted and arranged by Noa Gruman. These guys sung on metal albums like “Queen of Time” by Amorphis and “Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs” by Orphaned Land. And in case you liked the choir there, just wait till’ you hear them in their natural habitat! They take the band to a whole new level of epicness and at times add so many layers that it becomes another musical structure all on its own. And with slower songs like “Sands of Time part 5” they build an immersive and mystical stream of harmony that reminded me of Epica’s slower songs (only better). And then there’s the imagery behind the music. When putting together the choir with the oriental influences and relating it to the cover artwork and lyrical style, it conveys a certain innocence and wonder that I’d relate to the fantasy land created in Nightwish’s Imaginaerum, only taken to the heart of the desert.
To be fair, opening your debut album with a 25+ minute long prog opera with an overture and reprises and all that stuff, is as bold and daring as this band’s sound but to make it user friendly for those freaked out by long songs, it isn’t only split into 5 different tracks but each part works as a standalone song. However, I like to stream them in one piece because when you do that it becomes a worthy rival for timeless prog epics like Dream Theater’s “A Change of Seasons” or Symphony X’s “The Odyssey”. Only this one isn’t so much of a straightforward story. Instead it seems to offer an abstract first person perspective that goes through different phases and that you could very well identify with yourself and relate to on a much more personal level. The lyrics also seem to invoke the very passing of time and the way it eventually consumes everything.
Now to deliver all this huge amount of layers, it requires some serious mixing and mastering but that is also top class and in the end all the instruments come through very clearly and the album even feels spacious at times. As ironic as it may sound, “Sands of Time” is timeless! It is a progressive metal epic that expands on the legacy of the biggest names in the genre but it also brings together multiple influences from various directions. Prog fans, symphonic metal fans, opera listeners, head-bang addicts, jazzy nerds and death metal maniacs come together and rejoice! Scardust has it all!
Broken Bones Fuse
Long Island based progressive hardcore new-comers Monochromatic Black have finally put out their eagerly anticipated debut “Pneuma”. I’ve been waiting on this one for over a month now and after a few close-up streams, I’m thoroughly convinced that it doesn’t just live up to the expectation, but quite simply shatters it. The comparisons to Jinjer, Arch Enemy & co will inevitably start flowing but I feel like MB are an entity of their own that won’t allow any of these associations to stand. The album is only 24 minutes long but in that short playtime, it packs up more punch and creativity (and simply more notes) than some bands do in a lifetime. They have already been turning a lot of heads with the pre-released singles “The Herd” and “Phosphenes”, and for me personally they totally blew the Game of Thrones hype out of the water. It’s quickly becoming obvious that this band will have a stellar ascension, so if you want to be the douche who says “I knew them before they were famous” slap on a pair of noise cancelling headphones, play the video below and get ready for the shock wave.
First time hearing this band, I was pretty much floored by their technical capabilities and the utter savagery of their sound. It’s definitely the kind of music that shocks you, and not just when you hit play but all the way through a song. Tempos are always changing, progressive riffs alternate with straightforward bangers, and the breakdowns show up out of the blue, leaping at you like a wild beast that hasn’t eaten in a month. It’s dynamic, unpredictable, hectic and jaw-droppingly fast and it’s all topped by Tanya’s stellar vocals. The riffs are insanely difficult and the crunchy tone of the guitars helps amp up the adrenaline even further. The guitar leads keep the fast technical direction and at times, Johnny’s shredding reminded me of Jason Richardson’s style. Maybe that’s just me, but while the guitar sound is obviously gritty and filthy as hardcore metal requires, you can’t ignore how precise and accurate the delivery is. Some portions such as the solo for “Phosphenes” or the clean interlude in “Dream Catcher” send the string section into more melodic directions but for most of the running time it’s all about the roar. The shit really hits the fan when you add Eddie’s drilling double kicks and blast beats to the mix. He’s the driving force that keeps the energy flowing and creates the backbone of the record and he also displays more of a groovy side when the music needs to shift gears.
Shock and awe delivered, but the real magic happens when you spend some time with the music and become familiar with it. Giving the songs a closer listen will eventually unveil the cohesive nature of the structures and the strong emotions that come alongside it. As heavy as the album is you shouldn’t lose contact with the creative colorful complexity of it. It has a natural cohesive flow at the core that makes everything fall into place and even seamlessly ties one song to the next. Contrasting ideas are so beautifully chained together, so that every shift in pace is used to either build up on the energy or create suspense before a downpour. It seems that from a creative standpoint these guys are a lot more colorful than their name suggests.
Now how in the name of all that is holy do you build a vocal layer over such a bumpy instrumental? Ask Tanya! She knows! Her performance displays properly suited earth bending gutturals that are as aggressive as a hardcore record needs and heavy enough to tear a hole through time. While that’s where the shock usually occurs with female singers I find her cleans just as impressive. She adds a completely different dimension to the music with a robotic processed sound that is part soothing part creepy. It may be just me but I also feel like there’s a classic jazz singing influence in there too. The vocals are about as dynamic as the rest of the music and from a rhythm perspective she treats her voice as an instrument. It’s her ability follow the pace of the songs and switch between clean and guttural as well as the layering of the different kinds of vocals that leaves me breathless. This is the very definition of vocal flexibility and I think what makes the vocals so expressive and powerful is the lyrical content. There’s a very strong “Wake the fuck up” attitude in the lyrics. Be it politics, social standards, a toxic relationship or routine, this album will push you to overcome it. I really like that it’s kept abstract and relatable for the most part. Basically whatever your demons are, Tanya will put a spike through their heart and send them spinning straight to hell. It has an empowering healing tone and considering the album’s cover artwork, I think it’s related to her wild-life rescue experience.
Best debut of 2019? Very likely! For me it is and I have serious doubts that anyone will top it. What I admire most is that everything up to this point was done independently especially considering the production quality of the sound. It may be just a matter of time until labels start sinking their teeth in each other’s necks to get a contract with this band. That’s a lot of words. How about you put it to the test? If you like heavy or technical stuff Pneuma is right up your alley. Brace for impact and give it go. You won’t be disappointed.
Arise from the ashes
I’ve never been a fan of doom metal although there have been exceptions that made an impression on me. But one thing I learned is that anything with the word “progressive” in it is worth a shot. Seeing this album listed as “progressive doom” really sparked my curiosity as I’ve always had a hard time imagining how these two styles would come together and I honestly doubt I’ve ever listened to an album that would fit this description. Little did I know that the tag on Dreadnought’s music was just an attempt to categorize something that goes way beyond any predefined music style. Though I agree that progressive doom is as accurate as you can get, and probably the genre tag that fits them best, it is still incredibly limited in comparison to the wide array of musical dimensions that Denver’s Dreadnought can encompass. This has to be one of the most surprising things I’ve come across this year and although it dismisses all doom metal cliches, it still manages to sound doom as fuck.
The first thing that caught me off guard was the incredible amount of technique. While I’m used to doom metal being more of a drag, these guys take a different approach, giving it a more mid-tempo pace. There’s constant use of seriously difficult, fast and technical stuff, but it never gets pumped on energy and keeps things in a very fragile and delicate balance that allows the music to feel tuned down and controlled. It sounds heavy but contained and also gets a very powerful melodic aspect. Basically they bring together elements of doom, death, prog and even a little black metal. There’s also a strong psychedelic touch and a subtle use of jazzy dissonance on certain occasions, plus a very clever and unusual use of atmospheric elements. Putting all those together basically results in one of the most impressive genre mash-ups the world has ever seen. But the reason why they’re so special is because they made it work. It didn’t just happen for the sake of diversity but they grabbed all these elements from so many different musical palettes because of what each of them has to offer to push their sound further. They used them as tools to create something new, different and most importantly, beautiful.
Truthfully, it is a bit challenging to listen to. The backbone of it all is very volatile and unstable and each single instrument follows very fluid and unpredictable patterns, making it seem a bit chaotic and all over the place (though that does serve a purpose) but it somehow always feels right. Nothing is excessively blown out of proportion and the confusing, intricate part of their creativity is well balanced by the affinity for melody, groove and atmosphere. It winds up feeling harmonious and natural, making even the moments of most shocking contrast blend in easily and maintain continuity.
Now when it comes to prog nerds, advanced musicianship and instrumental performance, these guys certainly have a lot of aces up their sleeve. The drum parts are what instantly got me sold on Dreadnought. The amount of details, fill-in elements and the fluidity of the playing style is just astounding. This guy will pull off the most crazy death/black metal techniques intertwined with seriously brain melting prog and jazz filling and make it all sound smooth, easy and relaxed. Nothing is brutal or hits you in the gut. He even makes blast beats sound contained. The guitars and bass are just as out of the box, sounding a little drilling but also slightly muddy and putting together a fantastic play of harmonized riffs and layered melodies. Another amazing thing is how easily the clean guitar shines over the overdriven, raw-edged riffage and low frequency rumble of the bass, counterbalancing the sound spectrum. The same goes for the keyboard, ranging from clear piano sound to airy but dense synth ambience. Then they add an extra touch of variety with elements like saxophone, mandolin and flute just to keep anything from getting repetitive and always have something to take you by surprise. And just think that it’s all done by four people.
I’m also a sucker for the production. I always love it when an album sounds organic and raw (even a bit black metal oriented in this case) but doesn’t lose quality or definition to become an incoherent mess. Everything is easy to hear, yet it still has a natural texture, full of life and not feeling processed at all.
Despite all the intricate groundwork, the music is still easy to get into. That’s because the emotion and atmosphere are so well delivered that you don’t have to know or get used to the songs in order to fully take in the expressive value of it. And though it is so complex that I could probably come back to it 100 times and still find new things I hadn’t noticed, it takes little to no effort to enjoy it from the very first listen. The professionalism and finesse shines through each note and the capacity to make something so difficult, sound so appealing and keep you interested all the way through left me speechless.
And we have yet to uncover the meaning behind all this because when diving into the concept of “Emergence” and relating it to the emotional delivery, everything starts to make sense. Though there’s a lot more to it than this, what I can sum it up to is that they relate to elements of flame in order to describe a natural cycle of rebirth, starting with chaos and destruction and leaving a new being to rise from the ashes. What I can tell you is that it goes through aggression, pain, suffering, sadness, even a funeral tone (see the interlude “Still”). It feels devastatingly dark and somehow hypnotizes you, dragging you into a slumber of malevolent energies and yet, there’s a continuous underlying sense of peace/harmony and calm, as if all of this is meant to be. And this tiny vibration that lives beneath the chaos seems to take over towards the end of the final track, “The Waking Realm”, sending a surge of life and energy pumping through your bloodstream. A lot of the emotional content comes through the incredible vocal performance of Kelly Schilling, offering both soothing, hypnotic clean vocals and visceral black metal shrieking that clearly emphasizes the bipolarity of the concept between downfall and rebirth. Honestly this album makes me feel things I don’t entirely understand but can fully connect with on an energetic level. It’s like a ritual. It feels wildly primitive yet incredibly evolved. Though I can barely accept to view “Emergence” as a doom metal album, if I look at it that way then it is certainly my favorite doom metal album of all time. In the end, it’s one of the most fulfilling, rewarding and elevating things I’ve heard and it reaches a level beyond simply being music that you like or dislike.
In light of recent research, another artifact has surfaced in Metal Archeology. Coming again from the UK, from Glasgow this time, it is the blackened death metal duo that is “Horoma Exordium”. For those of you not up to date, Metal Archeology is where we feature great bands with less than 100 likes on Facebook and at the time of writing of this post, the aforementioned duo is comfortably sitting at 98 likes despite being around since 2016.
With the sheer amount of metal bands out there, it is easy to get swept away by the flood of releases every month and miss some of the true gemstones. The Metal Observer will help you dig up these gemstones with less than 100 likes on Facebook in “Metal Archeology”. And the first find is Ty Morn from London, England.
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