When we last left off Chicago doom-prog prodigies Flesh of the Stars, in early 2017, they had just released Anhilla. Anhilla is a glorious piece of work: a high-minded concept album that blended gloomy, introspective doom metal with the spacey and climactic synthesizer theatrics of David Bowie and Pink Floyd, it’s quite the achievement in terms of how much it manages to strip away from metal’s traditional bombast while remaining true to the pervasive melancholy spirit of the genre, such as that present in the music of compatriots Pallbearer and underground stalwarts Warning. Light touches of psychedelia intermingle with a cold, washed-out sound for an album that is as emotionally heavy and meditative as they come, even as flecks of incandescent light color the darkness.
It’s 2019 now, a good two years and change since the release of Anhilla, and Flesh are back with their fourth LP, Mercy. Instead of doubling down on the beautiful, moody atmosphere that made their last offering a gorgeous, slow-burning affair, the group has opted for a more riff-forward sound that brings them back around to their origins in doom metal. Make no mistake, this certainly isn’t traditionalist doom metal in the style of Spirit Adrift or Smoulder, but it is a far more recognizably metal sound. Check out the first single, “Rites,” to see exactly what I mean.
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Although “Rites” showcases the undeniably heavier sound of Mercy, it sounds more like the other side of the band’s profile than a noticeable sonic shift. That is to say, in their core, Flesh retain the best aspects of the sound they cultivated on Anhilla: lush production with a keen eye towards tone that matches the intended mood, synthesizers that give each track a distinct sense of personality, and a melodic style that doesn’t fall far from the established canon of the specific niche of doom metal the band occupies (albeit with a more progressive flair than some others pursue the same style). Mercy is a heavier album, and far more immediate and overt with its metal sensibilities than its predecessor; it takes the same set of threads but weaves an entirely different tapestry with them.
“Rites” is an excellent track in its own right, too, even as it treads an established path: the quiet acoustic guitar that explodes into a dramatic melody, the understated, ethereal vocals, the refrain that grows and grows before presenting one final climactic return to its original melody, the truly mournful guitar solo – everything works together to create a majestic piece of doom metal that doesn’t strive to eschew the genre’s trappings so much as bring the inherent beauty and grace therein to the forefront.
At a time when many other bands are opting to resurrect a style of doom metal that is much more in-your-face and True Heavy Metal, Flesh of the Stars coming forth with new music is a beautiful breath of fresh air in its own right; their presenting something so immediately excellent and exemplary of all that this side of doom has to offer makes the return doubly sweet. If you’re into metal’s more introspective, gloomy, emotional side, do not pass over this track.
Rites will be self-released on June 21st. Be sure to keep an eye on the Flesh of the Stars Bandcamp page to keep up to date with the record.