A Great Work Of Ages
posted on 10/2010 By:
Classic American thrashers Forbidden once released an album entitled Twisted Into Form, but the thrash genre has nothing to do with this review. Neither does America. Really neither does Forbidden. So why the fuck mention it? Because the subject of this review made me think of that title. Because it is a strikingly appropriate way to describe the approach that Australian death/black trio StarGazer brings to their compositions. Calling sophomore effort A Great Work Of Ages "black/death metal" only tells about 10 percent of the story. The fat side of the pie chart lies within that free-spirited and fearless part of the metal underground where artists take what they learn and twist it into their own personalized form. After all, there is more honor in subtly morphing one’s influences into something new and daring than there is in naming your band after an old album and carbon-copying the contents.
To be fair, StarGazer had a very long embryonic period (ten years before debut The Scream That Tore The Sky hit in 2005), so they’ve had time to shed any overly derivative traits. As they exist now, the elements of their core sound take well-practiced styles and ride them about 25 feet off the train tracks, close enough to seem accessible to a well-seasoned vet of all things heavy and yet odd enough to keep that gray matter in peak physical shape.
For example, opener “Red Antlered Radiant” begins with a certain The Chasm vibe, but this and similar parts are stirred up by a barrage of other stylings, chief among them loads of jazzy death metal à la Atheist. This is on full display during “Hue-Man-King,” sometimes in an almost deconstructed format (listen for it; you’ll hear it), while also featuring some very Shaefer-esque vocals by guitarist/vocalist Denny Blake. It’s homage, but not quite, and these ideas exist within songs also containing scattered melodic black metal melodies, bits of Individual Thought Patters-era Death and even some Gorgutsian insanity. Seem schizophrenic? A Great Work Of Ages listens smoother than it reads.
Despite the predominantly death metal influences cited, the album makes a very blackened first impression, somewhat due to the slightly raw production, but more due to the level of dynamics on display. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Chase For The Serpentsong,” a nine-minute-plus epic which builds slowly before it settles into a death metal groove, jerks the listener around with some spazzing riffology, and eventually works into a swarming climax of intertwining and labyrinthine tremolo riffs. Not every part of this design is necessarily black metal, but the structure and scope certainly are.
Other songs may not display this complexity or epic scale -- most hover around the five minute mark -- but all are busily written and performed by three wildly talented musicians. In addition to Blake’s work, the drumming of Selenium is as important to the riffs as the guitar, and Damon Good’s swirling bass is a complete mindfuck. The guy is instrumentally insane, acting at different times as a true rhythm section bassist, second guitar, and even lead. The linchpin of StarGazer’s music is in how the three individual performances are molded into one roaring beast, as each song is clearly a direct result of these dudes’ collective chemistry as a unit.
A Great Work Of Ages is destined to be a mite divisive. Odds are that many listeners will be confused about why StarGazer didn’t 1) veer more towards the atmospheric and otherworldly black metal side or 2) fully indulge their techy-jazzy-avant-garde death metal side. The fact that the production fails to provide a vast atmosphere for the former or an Ali-v-Frazier punch for the latter only adds fuel to this potential debate. But there will also be that other group of fans that find the band’s quirks and instrumental prowess to be exactly what satiates their hungry ears. Because it is that type of album: that which will appear at the top of one person’s list and then completely off the next five, or the disc that one of your friends will not stop barking about until you finally give it a chance. And when you listen, even if you don’t worship at the level others do, you’ll at least understand why they see it that way.
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