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Academic War Metal - 96%

Metantoine, September 14th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Nuclear War Now! Productions

This is a seriously weird but addictive album and its wide mix of elements shouldn’t work as well as it does. The Australian trio cultivates a mysterious and magical aura throughout their elusive albums. This 2014 effort was released 4 years after the excellent A Great Work of Ages and I bet it’s gonna take a while to get a new one. This is fine though since despite the short length of this album, there’s so many things to discover on every spin. The fact that the members are involved in other high caliber bands such as Mournful Congregation or Cauldron Black Ram (if you’re not familiar with both of them, check them out too) could also explain the long periods between full lengths.

While I certainly like straight death metal with no frills or gimmicks, I do prefer adventurous bands unleashing weirdness upon weirdness. That’s why I think Horrendous released one of the best recent death metal albums with Ecdysis and it’s probably why Opeth is my favorite band (I guess they still count as death metal, right?). StarGazer are definitely one of those exploratory bands and they have an unparalleled vision. Traveling through avant-garde seas like their fellow Australians Portal, I do feel this trio made their experimental blend of extreme metal more natural by removing the obsessive Lovecraftian horror element of The Curator’s band. The most impressive component of this trio is their level of musicianship, it’s simply through the roof. They’re basically Australia’s extremely cult response to Rush, Atheist, Death but also to Incantation and Demilich, if this makes sense. Like their other compatriot Ulcerate, the trio consisting of the usual metal instruments are able to push the generic envelope of such a formula but contrary to the Everything Is Fire Tasmanians, they don’t do it by creating a massive wall of sound. They do it with a superbly smart sound full of intelligent moments like no one else.

What’s also exceptional about them is their ability to integrate an experimental approach so easily in their songs. They almost hide the fact that they’re weird by just being riff machines, a good example of this would be “Black Gammon”, the aggressive opener. The song starts in a somewhat safe way but then bludgeon you with insane bass licks (apparently fretless bass played with a pick).

There’s also the variations in moods and tempos that are quite interesting, “An Earth Rides Its Endless Carousel” has this smooth section incorporated with ease and it’s just unbelievable. There’s also some brief clean vocals to accentuate the transition. Speaking of vocals, I’ll admit I can really say who of either Damon Good (known as The Great Righteous Destroyer here) or Denny Blake (The Serpent Inquisitor) are singing since they share the duty but there’s a grand variety of extreme metal vocals styles. From deep, cavernous growls to the more traditional thrashy death style (opening of “Incense and Aeolian Chaos”), and I must say that every facets of this aspect of StarGazer’s personality is thoroughly enjoyable. If you add the fact that the lyrics are totally bonkers, you get an interesting album. The mix of magical, mystical and fantasy themes written with in poetical but also academical sort of way is without a doubt one of the highlights of the record for me. Let me go back to what I was saying about the “hidden” weirdness, the lyrics absolutely add this eccentric flavor.

Antiquial light shed with a wave of lichen hand
An ancient tress, a wooden pulse
Varnish reeks, shadows creak
A stale grace, old tea, old tea

The Australian trio are in fact a war metal band turned into an university professor. They went to war, killed a bunch of innocent people, came back and finished their English literature PhD and wrote about their experiences. The skilled marriage of death and black metal (war metal is often a mix of both and some added elements) is actually hard to distinguish, I do think they’re a bit more on the death metal side most of the time but there’s definite black metal elements on Merging. They play technical death without falling into the easy tropes of the genre, no overlong soloing or disastrous odd time signatures written to impress kids. It’s just unhinged drumming with mesmerizing bass lines and intricate guitars. The eleven minutes song “The Grand Equalizer” is obviously the centerpiece of this album, it has all their elements and it’s just a fantastic progressive metal track full of twists and turns. The album then ends its (relatively) brief essay with two harder and to the point tracks. I guess I’ll just replay it until I fully understand it.

Metantoine's Magickal Realm