Boston’s Astronoid made quite the first impression when they debuted the title track to their latest album, Air. It was surreal and breezy for a six-minute track, a refreshing take on progressive speed metal (as was “Up and Atom”). They weren’t throwing the kitchen sink at us with any banjo breakdowns or headache-inducing time signature changes, they simply gave us some hook-laden major key shred – what should be noted as an equally unconventional angle for a modern prog metal act to leverage while their contemporaries are pushing further into the technical realms of black and death metal. Astronoid are very much what you’d expect from a band defining themselves as “dream thrash” or “shoegaze metal.” They are swift, ethereal yet dense, spacey, and thorough. It’s progressive but not unapproachable, Rush-like in the sense that they’re composing six-plus minute mini-epics that have pop appeal, but with a black metal/shoegaze spin.
Along the way, Air sounds like the band is bucking the trends and answering that petty list of why people “can’t listen to metal.” No harsh vocals or gutturals to be found here, only a sheen of pristine cleans – vocalist/guitarist Brett Boland brings to mind the register and timbre of The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala or Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez. While lyrically this may skew a bit negative, Boland’s delivery seems to promise some type of redemption or optimism. There’s not much in the way of atonal, dark, or brutal tones, either; almost everything is sonically uplifting and melodic. Even with three guitars (also featuring Casey Aylward & Mike DeMelia) and a bass (Daniel Schwartz), they don’t overcomplicate things, maintaining an easy-to-decipher sound that doesn’t burden the listener – a testament to both the players in arrangement and the mixing/mastering of the record. The number of tasteful solos and harmonies are less about ego-stroking and more about song development, they never feel like an afterthought or tacked-on superfluously. Matt St. Jean’s drumming is engaging and stylistically varied, adding weight and pushing the band as needed. There’s a satisfying heft and deliberation to the his kick drum and blast beats, a nice contrast to the bright and busy cymbal work.
I won’t go as far as saying that Astronoid are reinventing the wheel, but they’re keeping things from getting stale. Air is a trojan horse to ears untrained in the ways of metal. It may not be the album metal wants, but might be the album the genre needs. There’s plenty of common ground to be found for both seasoned metalheads and those not even into metal, and that’s exactly what makes it such a compelling listen. There’s something for everyone, it’s a cornucopia of blistering tremolos, gliding vocal melodies, thrashing solos, giant choruses, blast beats, and euphoric walls of guitars. They aren’t merely retooling a metallic sound for a new audience, they’re making wholesale changes to what we all can understand as metal. The distinction here is important, too, because Air builds a bridge to bring people into metal not by the usual means of a radio single or gimmick (that shit gets tossed to the wind the second the schtick wears off), but through authentic craftsmanship. Not only is this record something veteran headbangers will want to revisit years from now, it’s also a great new launching point for non-metalheads that doesn’t belittle their understanding of metal. Essentially, this is the exact opposite of a band like BABYMETAL’s approach. While still easy to digest, this is an exponentially deeper, denser, and more rewarding listen.
Air is out tomorrow June 10th via Blood Music. You can preorder it here. Thanks to Stereogum, you can hear it now though.