Depending on who you ask, America’s black metal scene is wounded but recovering. The young sect of atmospheric and post-black metal acts are flourishing, dividing listeners firmly on either side of the aisle. On one hand, Panopticon‘s latest outings meddled in swathes of bluegrass and Americana, contributing to the furtherance of black metal as a visceral and capable artform. On the other, longtime fans of the genre bemoan the fusion of post-rock and new wave made popular by acts such as Wolves in the Throne Room and Deafheaven as an “unneeded feminization” (their words, not ours) of black metal. It goes without saying, of course, that around these parts, the petulant line drawing and “stay out of my side of the playpen” mentality is frowned upon, as genre fusion and variation are to be celebrated. Nevertheless, there is an urge to see America export more bands that borrow from the Emperor and Gorgoroth schools of thought, and Minneapolis’ Astral Blood have the potential to fill that need while still flirting heavily with the Americanized atmospheric style of black metal.
Astral Blood’s self-titled three-track EP does feature callbacks to the definitive works of Emperor had they been raised in the more comforting arms of modern atmospheric black metal. The influences are tell-tale; the band’s moniker is likely borrowed from a Wolves in the Throne Room track of the same name, and song structures are centered on omnipresent blast beats and tremelo picking in a flurry of dark chord progressions and emotive climaxes. There are few traditional “riffs” in sight, but rarely does the band meander into bare, expansive atmospherics or twinkling clean melodies outside of the stellar piano and spoken word-lead ‘Interlude‘. Guitars are given brief opportunity to shine through surprisingly spirited solos, but they’re most often keep locked in place. So what’s all this about Emperor, then?
The connections start to make more sense when Astral Blood are at their most epic. The band augments their razor-tight picking with symphonic synths and choral pads to create colossal orchestrations that propel Astral Blood into the stratosphere. The band also find themselves saddled perfectly at the crossroads of polish and grit, with production value seemingly (and surprisingly?) disproportionate to a band of their size. Further, frontman Andrew Rasmussen delivers an outstanding vocal performance that puts to shame many others in a style plagued by sloppiness or otherwise veiled in cavernous reverb. Multi-instrumentalist Joe Waller also contributes conservative use of clean singing, strategically placed during the EP’s pivotal moments. These cleans are well-executed, and believe it or not, could stand to appear more frequently.
Of course, tremolo picking and symphonics can only carry a band so far, but the elements already in place make for an advantageous starting point and make hints at greater things to come. Astral Blood could stand to expand their sonic palette and take some risks with dynamic and guitar tech, but it would be hard to stay mad if a proper full-length carried on with business as usual. Suffice it to say, Astral Blood is an incredibly promising debut EP that could very well help make a name for a relative unknown.
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Astral Blood – Astral Blood gets…