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Astronoid - Astronoid Music Album Reviews

On their second album, these metallurgists again find an awesome intersection of black metal pummel and shoegaze luster—then remain there, in its thrall.

The self-titled second album from Boston’s Astronoid begins, boldly, with a song called “A New Color.” But if you have heard Deafheaven’s Sunbather and Boris’ Pink or even simply seen their covers, this a familiar hue, where black metal and neon shoegaze converge in a brilliant Belt of Venus. As the double kick drums shudder beneath comet trails of processed guitars, certain expectations emerge for the vocals—something harsh and demonic, signifying the atrocity inside the eerie mist. But Brett Boland is actually the exact opposite, his choirboy keen providing the unearthly glow of a Mew or Sigur Rós record. Hearing Boland in the context of Astronoid’s laser-lit blackgaze is unsettling but awesome, like witnessing a hailstorm in daylight. But this excellent first impression is the only one Astronoid really make.

That same wow factor propelled Astronoid’s 2016 debut, Air, too, putting the band squarely on the softer, more approachable side of Deafheaven, Vattnet Viskar, and Alcest. If there were a nagging sense that Air didn’t convey much beyond the awestruck innocence gleaned from hearing any one minute of their music, it didn’t matter—Astronoid had already presented familiar elements in a completely new way, and things like “craft” and “nuance” are reserved as talking points for second albums, anyway.

But Astronoid pull the same tricks over and over again for these 47 minutes, too. It’s a curious case of expansive-sounding metal best suited for 30-second streaming previews. Catch anything here at the right moment—the old-school guitar heroism of “A New Color,” or Boland howling “I’ll be fine” ahead of a blast-beat torrent on the chorus of “I Dream in Lines”—and it likely scans as transcendent. If Astronoid lopped a minute or two from these five- or six-minute songs, they might land as a posi-vibes pop-metal band. If they added a minute or two here or there by digging a bit more deeply into their occasional prog-metal overtures or sludge redirections, Astronoid could be a formidable psych-metal act fit for, say, Desert Daze, their overdriven guitars and generous harmonics practically radiant.

As it stands, Astronoid is a weirdly static, even tedious affair. The moments of triumph appear without any resistance, leaving “I Dream in Lines” and “A New Color” as satisfying as playing a beautifully rendered video game at the lowest difficulty level. Boland’s vocals are unlike much else in metal right now but also too much like himself, without much motion or versatility. The band applies the same blinding sheen to Bolan’s vocals and every single instrument for every single song and every single second. And while cycling among stock images of falling through dark skies or considering faded pictures like Robert Smith at his most Mad-Libbed, Boland sings almost exclusively in stock rhyme schemes—“Victim of another year/I don’t know who shed a tear/I remember dear,” goes one emblematic sequence. Occasionally, the Eurovision gloss on Boland’s vocals underscores the bizarre Babel Fish syntax: “I want the fun afar/I’m not a friend/I’ll say again.” These songs resemble a jelly donut—break the fragile crust, only to find an even more cloying, airy sweetness inside.

Astronoid operate with a total lack of cynicism, so their spirit and candor make them harder to dismiss than a mere genre novelty. But this is an intended crossover album that glimmers like fool’s gold. The final words of Astronoid unwittingly become its most stinging critique: “The joke’s on us/We’re unaware/We’re all caught up/With nothing there.” At least it shimmers from a distance.


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