Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Astral Luminis - Lunaric Tide. 94/100.

The necessity or, in some cases, futility of one man bands has often produced the most pain staking arguments between the loyal followers of this genre that we call our own - black metal. Besides the typical rants and raves that follow the depressive sub-genre around, one man bands seems to be the next big thing when it comes to characteristics of a band that is on the agenda for mass debate. These arguments often grind to a halt because we ourselves are unsure of the accessibility that bands of the aforementioned kind possess. It is fair to say that the accessibility is dependant entirely on three essential qualities; A) The mindset of the listener. Are they willing to accept this half-breed into their lives? Are they willing to be open minded? B) The musician. When a musician is devoid of talent, there is no use for a band to exist, in any form so the musician must be up to a certain standard that allows the listener to look beyond the fact that there might be some constraints in a one man band that may hold the accessibility levels back. C) The relationship between the two. It isn’t any good having a listener who is prepared to give a musician a chance to dazzle them when the musician isn’t up to it and it isn’t any good having a listener who isn’t prepared to give a musician a chance when it is universally taught that bands like this do not strive to be the best of the best, they’re in fact a fine representative of the worst that the genre has to offer. Every genre or sub-genre has its own pre-conceptions. Each comes attached with its own universal stereotypes.

For example, depressive black metal is known as the devil incarnate due to its excessively dire characteristics. It would seem that a number of bands have gone unnoticed simply because that fall into this category and because of which, I often find myself shaking hands with anger again because of the ridiculous influence that stereotypes has over a certain field of music. Arguments will not cease, therefore arguments of this type have been a constant annoyance in the underground black metal scene for some time, plaguing the prospective usefulness of a one man band before we have even heard them ourselves. Many form opinions based on the simple fact that a band consists only of one member which don’t reflect well against the positive sides of these types of bands. When it comes to the bands that consist of two members or more, I’m beginning to doubt the necessity of so many individuals within the one band because acts like America’s high flying Astral Luminous are a formidable example of the frightening consequences that constructing a band of the one man kind can have on the sound. ‘Lunaric Tide’, Astral Luminous’ debut, is a sign that a positive future could be within the bands, and Scott Johnson’s grasp. With time comes experience, maturity and wisdom .Three quintessential characteristics that will be required for this band to take the sound of this profound debut onwards and upwards towards the majestic heights of the golden gates, where only the best can pass through on towards the lair where the black metal Gods and Goddesses reside.

The arduous nature of such debates puts a strain on my capacity to be able to take discussions with fellow black metal fans. We’re an opinionated bunch with a fair amount of us displaying our opinions as facts in an ever-so-arrogant manner. I can even foresee cries of “not another depressive black metal band!” in the distance, echoing on and on, reaching the far corners of the earth and keeping the narrow minded locked away in their towers and the open minded chained down to the floor, unable to escape the wrath of the blinkered souls that are set to face an eternity of covering up the best black metal bands out of fear - fear of clichés. This isn’t to say Astral Luminous are without clichés, they most certainly aren’t, but this concoction is terrifically woven around ambient and black metal, making it twice as interesting as most bands within the scene at the moment and beating down the pre-conceptions that America is useless when it comes to forming formidable black metal bands. The so-called USBM scene is one of the most ridiculed and to this day, I still do not understand why. The problems with the “mainstream” sides of black metal have always been the same, but like always, when you scour the underground, there are numerous gems scattered sporadically around the dark caves - Astral Luminous being one of those.

Astral Luminous cannot be claimed to be the most experimental because the material here has a similar feel to bands like Darkspace and Velvet Cacoon, but it fortunately does maintain its own sound, steering clear of the clone description that freely circulates the underground, attaching itself to bands like a leech and sucking their experimental and individual essence from them. This methodical approach is formulaic without sounding repetitive. Scott Johnson has a vivid imagination and he portrays that expressively here in the ambient segments, which link up well with the dark ambient genre, and some of the most dissonant black metal anthems you’ve heard since Velvet Cacoon unleashed ‘Genevieve’ with its highly intoxicating distortion and downbeat production. Although Astral Luminous may have ties to certain bands playing within their field of ambient black metal, Scott Johnson makes sure that he has his own little unique inputs here and there that makes this record both fresh and overwhelmingly exciting. For example, the bass is as audible as one could ever hope for. Unlike the aforementioned comparisons, Astral Luminous like to allow the bass to flow unceasingly below the surface and, in songs like ‘Binaural Vibrancy’, the band really lives up to its name. Astral themes, spaced out guitars and an ambiance that lifts the listeners soul right from out of their body and takes it along the crest of a wave to the unnerving oceans of melody.

Scott Johnson has his own methods of experimentation that most bands of this style do not normally implement within their sound. Audible bass, two fully ambient songs that bring out the dark ambient vibes and believable themes that examine the different sections of life on earth, as well as space and infinite time. The bands song titles, like ‘Cosmic Dream’ or even the records title itself project an imagine of this aptly named band before the record has even reached the middle stages. Long passages of ambiance fit superbly alongside the guitars that supplies the vivid dissonant cogs that turn effortlessly along the streaming lines of spaced out echoes within the soundscapes that stretch beyond their fragile limits into our bodies. The bass is responsible for the ground work and even the percussion, which is usually limited and restricted in one man bands, is accessible, consistent and creatively spread along the portrayal in a style that requires high dosages of hi-hat and snare work that snaps at our toes constantly, causing us to reflect quickly over the mid paced soundscapes that require endless inspections due to their thought provoking sound. The vocals aren’t exemplary of the brilliant that unfolds on this record, but they’re suitable enough, despite being utterly incoherent. The combinational style that sees a great work ethic and continuity between the bass and the guitars, as shown on the self-titled song towards the end as it lushly and lovably sways towards its beautiful ending, is the most inspiring element of the work present here. Scott Johnson has given himself a hard target to beat on his sophomore record but I, for one, am glad he has. Excellently developed to a high standard. A true gem of the American scene.

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