Another find on my weekly bandcamp review of music, Sul ad Astral is a New Zealand duo whose first release is due out on Pest666 records at the end of the month. Self-defined as comparable to Alcest and Dopamine (from their bandcamp description), they play a blackgaze mostly rooted in melancholy and darkness when compared to Alcest.
Like most of the albums to which I have listened this year, they present a clean production in their music, meaning that any use of fuzzy noise or grittiness is a conscious decision for the band. The guitars are strangely clean and piercing at times over the ringing and solid bass. Overall, it seems that production quality, even in beginning and underground bands, is becoming a point of concern during the recording of the album. Generally, the music comes across as dark and melancholic, which the production aids by giving all the instruments the room to breath. Structurally, the songs are written in such a way to carry aspects of the previous song into them.
To start, I am not an instrumental fan at all. I enjoy classical music; however, in modern music forms, I very much prefer having a vocalist to express the poetry of the music. The introductory song of this album, “To Cherish,” is a major exception to this rule and demonstrates the band’s talent for evoking mood and contrasting soundscapes for emotional effect. The song opens with a plaintive fragility that dances in a cold atmosphere, crescendoing in a piercing guitar whine that persists when the down tuned tremolo guitar start alongside the blast beats. To me, this brought forth imagery of the emotional pain of what cherishing can cause. It is a song that never simmers over into anger, staying very firmly rooted in its melancholic atmosphere, but waving between the pleasure and pain that cherishing can cause. Upon the completion of this song, I was hooked especially when the piercing guitar bled into the next track during which the band reveals their style of low, nearly whispered clean singing, black metal shrieks, and death metal howls.
As the album continues, the atmospheric focus from their post-rock efforts becomes unmistakably clear, creating a feeling that the band is going for the chamber music approach to this style. As they state, they are very firmly rooted in black metal; however, they seem to borrow more from shoegaze than I would have expected, reminding me of Amesouers instead of Alcest. At times, their song progressions are a touch bi-polar, spinning quickly up or down in mood or emotion from light into darkness, warmth into cold, and back again (see Persona I: Lunar for a great demonstration of a change from black metal into a drum march and then back into the nearly pure black metal howling).
This is one of the best albums to which I’ve listened all year, which might be distinctly influenced by my appreciation of blackgaze. Combining that with the fact that this is Sul ad Astral’s first release as band, I’m excited that there is a new band who’s efforts I will be following into the future. I advise any of you that enjoy this style to check these guys out. I am afraid that their cost on Bandcamp may be far too high for people to risk listening to this wonderfully introspective and talented band. The album is listed for $15 USD (which I will probably donate a touch more to the band after the 28th of February) which I believe, as it is advertised through the record label’s bandcamp site, is a marketing decision. Being that the standard for digital purchases if $10 USD, I feel that their label may be doing them a touch of disservice. Otherwise, I have a feeling I may have found an album that I will be listening to a lot in the coming weeks.
UPDATE: The band says this is to fund the pressing of the album, which makes more sense. In other words, if you’re a metal fan, or music fan, you have no choice but to pick up this album.