We’re the first to say, and have said many times, that the relevance of djent as a genre is no longer clear. However, like all sub-genres, expecting djent to simply disappear would be a mistake. When sub-genres move on or lose cohesion, they tend to break up and splinters of their style pop up in adjacent or sometimes even not-so adjacent sub-genres. With djent, this has mostly affected progressive metal, creating many permutations within the genre. One of the styles born from this alchemy is a specific type of modern progressive album which blends melody and atmosphere with a heavier djent sound. These bands take the Textures formula and pull it to either extreme; the melodic parts are more melodic, the atmospheric parts more atmospheric and the harsher parts, well, they’re harsher.
Think of Caligula’s Horse or Vildhjarta, two extreme ends of the same phenomenon. They each stretch the limits of what the genre does in opposite directions: one towards the melodic side and one towards the heavier side. Now to these annals we can add Stargazer; while their album Tui La, which sees release on August 18th via Famined Records, is not their first piece of music released, it is their first full length album. It is chock full with the kind of formula we described above, a djent-y approach to progressive metal which blends chugs, technical riffs, off kilter vocal work and an overall progressive structure. However, unlike the bands mentioned above (and perhaps most similarly like Uneven Structure), Stargazer refuse to sacrifice either side of the formula, instead preferring to wield both approaches at the same time.
Thus we get tracks like “Temple of Solace” living on the same album as “The Dream Electric”. The former is all aggression, populated mostly by harsh vocals. Chugging makes up the backbone of the track, with the harsh vocals dancing the familiar dance of the sub-genre above them. Which is not to say that clean vocals are absent; these soaring escapades remind one of Voyager (an apt comparison in general, by the way) or the expired Numbers, all frills and operatic themes to clash with the harsher singing. But the weight of the track is completely dominated by the harsher vocals and their companion, the down-tuned guitar. Beyond the riffs of the verses themselves, the track is replete with heavier/faster bridges which grant it a sense of momentum that is hard to resist and is one of the best things that djent gave our community.
“The Dream Electric” however, is a different beast. It opens with melodramatic synths who’s operatic quality is maintained by the rest of the composition. The emphasis here is on the clean vocals, soaring choruses and choirs amplifying them into a grander than life form of delivery. The track prefers a more “airy” approach to progressive metal, allowing the listener more time to sink or immerse themselves in the music instead of battering them with aggression. This fact also exposes the main weakness of Tui La; when your ear has been conditioned to expect assault, it often missteps in the face of a caress. Thus, a lot of the more emotionally potent moments on the album are robbed of their punch by the heavier segments which came before them, on other tracks, feeling shallow by comparison.
Which is not to say that Tui La is a bad album. On the contrary, there’s plenty to enjoy on it. However, it takes some time to get used to and process. Veterans of the genre might not be deterred by the helter-skelter approach to composition but anyone not completely sold on contrast might be. Is that a bad thing? Depends on Stargazer’s purpose with this release. If the idea was to write an album that would be wildly appealing, perhaps they have fallen a bit short of their mark. But if their purpose was to write an album that’s intricate beyond mere instrumentation then they have succeeded as Tui La represents a challenging and non-standard approach to album composition that, somehow, seems to work for those willing to listen.
Tui La releases on August 18th, via Famined Records. You can pre-order it on iTunes.