By: Luke Henley
StarGazer | website | facebook | bandcamp |
Released on December 2, 2014 via Nuclear War Now! Productions
In the darker, weirder corners of extreme music it is difficult to pin something down as mercurial as “relevance.” In some schools of thought relevance can even be the death blow to members of the underground elite class. Other bands can grow in exposure and popularity while maintaining the hushed tones of reverence among its audience. It is difficult, though, to discuss how “relevant” a band like StarGazer is among its contemporaries mostly because in so many ways they sidestep the question altogether.
When StarGazer released its sophomore album, A Great Work of Ages, it was the first exposure to many listeners mostly due to the signing clout of Profound Lore. The focus also seemed to be on Australia at the time, where so many of the most buzzed-about bands seemed to originate. Everyone wanted to know who would be the “next Portal,” and StarGazer seemed a worthy comparison with both its bizarre strains of jazz-inflected death metal and its personnel’s pedigrees including Denouncement Pyre and Mournful Congregation. Still, at the end of the year the album received few accolades. Despite being one of this reader’s favorite albums of that year, and despite what seemed to be a healthy amount of respect given by the metal community at large, StarGazer did not seem to make as great an impact as some might have expected.
So now it is almost 5 years later and the band is back with A Merging to the Boundless on an even more obscure, oft-beloved label Nuclear War Now! Productions, and while StarGazer might not be poised to suddenly become everyone’s favorite band (despite the fact that they should), it has returned with an album of such refined ferocity so as to explode the necessity of “relevance” into oblivion.
The band’s hallmarks are all still in place, most notably the complex meter and shifts executed with intimidating precision. The bass also remains in the forefront, as it so often is not in many death-indebted bands. Not only is the bass prominently featured, it maintains its crystal clear edge that in many ways isolates it from the rest of the sound while showcasing how expertly it fits into and drives the songs. Like any good three piece, StarGazer trims away anything extraneous which lends even its most sprawling arrangements a toughness that allows for as much accessibility as it does mind expansion.
The music is, as previously stated, ferocious. There are few moments left to take a breath as extremely technically-advanced songs such as ‘An Earth Rides its Endless Carousel’ snaps from airy, progressive passages to the teeth-gnashing headsnap of something akin to Charles Mingus sitting down for a session with Gorguts. While that description might sound overly heady, however, the band manages to temper its esoteric leanings with a collective ear for rich melodies. Rather than some technically advanced players, StarGazer is not interested in merely showing off. The performances serve the excellence of the songwriting, and at no point does it feel like the music comes from any realm other than fierce passion.
That passion is what separates the band, perhaps, from the discussion of where it stands among its peers. The music is a pure distillation of what comes across as the exact music its creators wanted to play and listen to. Like the best works of art it seems to have been created in a void in which the only three witnesses and critics were the three who wrote and played it. The real justice will be seen in that void expanding outward and sucking more people in. To those paying attention, this will be a listen to return to for years to come.