Scardust - Sands of Time - (10/10)
Published on May 18, 2019
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!