review: Astronoid transition expertly into prog-pop territory on their s/t LP
It’s worth stating that a great deal of how Astronoid’s stellar debut record Air got discussed was misleading. There were, depending on where you looked, fixations on black metal and post-metal elements that, while present, are certainly marginal to the overall construction of their sound. And on every record prior to their self-titled second album, this was an arguable position but not necessarily immediately apparent; now, however, they have turned the tides, stripping their sound down to its essential elements of contemporary progressive rock and post-hardcore, coming across more like a blend of Mew, Coheed and Cambria and modern-day Anathema than another Alcest or Lantlos.
It’s notable, of course, that this does not mean that the album is devoid of triumphant guitarisms. One need only look at Mew’s dalliances with knotted and dark progressive rock on the track “Circuitry of the Wolf” or, well, Coheed and Cambria’s entire discography to see these comparison points offer strong implication of the gauzy and anthemic guitar work to be found on Astronoid’s new release. The only difference is that while their previous records sound like proggy pop-rock done right made by extreme metal-aware instrumentalists, this new one sounds more decidedly in a mainstream-friendly camp. It is not unlike Devin Townsend’s similar shift in the mid-point of his career, and likewise for Astronoid it comes at no sacrifice of their songwriting acumen. If anything, they are more focused here, with tracks like lead single “I Dream In Lines” reading less like an arms-outstretched outlier on a record of otherwise knotted and complex material but instead the par for the album.
Another comparison point would be The Contortionist’s similar reinvention across the span of their discography, morphing from deathcore to prog metal ala Cynic to a direct and gauzy progressive metal band with clear pop structures. Similar to that band, Astronoid demonstrate on their new album a commitment to shoegaze and dream pop elements that ground the heaviness and allow them to sell what would otherwise be abrasive and difficult textures when married to such heavenly canons of airy vocals. The group now more often sounds like a vintage era shoegaze group like Swervedriver, Astrobrite or loveliescrushing than a black metal or even post-metal group; there is a similar adherence to the value of distorted guitars, and even heavy ones, but the aim of those pursuits feels different now.
However: in retrospect, it is not so different. Astronoid also serves to recontextualize their previous work, indicating that this was a kernel always inside those albums. This is the value of Astronoid as a group and Astronoid as a record; they both indicate the possibility for music like this to still contain those gargantuan, arena-filling starry-eyed moments that feel like they could, in the right circumstances, reconquer the mainstream if given the chance while still wowing devotees of underground rock music. Astronoid do not feel shortened or compromised on their new record; they feel more devoutly focused and more capable to do what they clearly have always been seeking to do. Groups like Vattnet attempted something similar and stumbled; one hopes, and with the quality of the material presented here there is good reason to hope, that Astronoid will not fall victim to the same stumblings but will instead lift upward. If they keep putting out records of this quality, they will be most of the way there.
Astronoid's new self-titled album is out now via Blood Music and you can stream it, and watch the just-released pro-shot live video for "I Dream In Lines," below. The band's tour with Between the Buried and Me and Tesseract begins next week.
Between the Buried and Me / Tesseract / Astronoid -- 2019 Tour Dates
February 12 Wilmington, DE The Queen
February 13 Lancaster, PA Chameleon Club
February 14 Asbury Park, NJ Asbury Lanes
February 15 Portland, ME Port City Music Hall
February 16 Hampton, NH Wally’s
February 17 Rochester, NY Anthology
February 19 Cleveland, OH Agora
February 20 Lansing, MI The Loft
February 21 Milwaukee, WI Turner Hall Ballroom
February 22 Des Moines, IA Wooly’s
February 23 Omaha, NE Slowdown
February 24 Boulder, CO Fox Theater
February 26 Reno, NV Cargo
February 27 Fresno, CA Strummer’s
March 1 Pomona, CA The Glasshouse
March 2 Tucson, AZ The Rock
March 4 Odessa, TX Dos Amigos
March 5 Corpus Christi, TX House of Rock
March 7 New Orleans, LA House of Blues
March 8 Pensacola, FL Vinyl Music Hall
March 9 Greenville, SC The Firmament
March 10 Winston-Salem, NC The Ramkat
March 11 Louisville, KY Diamond Pub Concert Hall