Stargazer – A Merging to the Boundless
Hey flushers, how many Stargazer fans do we have here? I didn’t see A Merging to the Boundless on many top 10 lists in 2014 (though I know mah boy Simon Phoenix digs) [It was on my list, you dork. – Masterlord]; but I think that’s mainly attributable to the fact that the album was intended for a 12.31.14 release (then silently got bumped up to 12.02.14). If you were like me, you were chomping at the bit for more Stargazer music. Their first album Scream That Tore the Sky dropped in 2005, then A Great Work of Ages in 2010… they were definitely due for some new output. And put out they did!
Elegant. Graceful. Words you might not associate with progressive death/black metal. But let’s do it for this album. The first single “An Earth Rides Its Endless Carousel” might have caught some of you off-guard, as it’s not the face-melter we might have expected from the band who composed Scream That Tore the Sky 14 years ago. It starts off with clean guitars, gentle and audible bass lines, and some jazzy drumming. The track takes over three minutes to sound like the Stargazer to which we are accustomed… So the question is: do we worry? Are we ready for a mature Stargazer, without scorching riffs? I’ll do a quick album breakdown:
Track 1: “Black Gammon.” I’m willing to say that one of the most badass things a metal band can do is scream the title of the song at the beginning of the track AND at the end of it. The first track of the album does this, and more: it throws a thrashy brick right at your head from the moment it starts. Stargazer is reminding us that they can shred with the best of them with breakneck riffs. The song does not slow down for its entire length. We can rest easy that this is the band we’re used to.
Tracks 2 and 3: …And we were [semi]wrong! “Old Tea” and “An Earth Rides Its Endless Carousel” aren’t the blackened thrashy songs of old. Instead of throwing riffs at us, they’re flexing their jazzy muscles. (A similar thing has been done by Intronaut since Valley of Smoke). It really seems that the members of the band are having fun with with their back-and-forths; the drummer will throw a little tom-tom-hiss-hiss over to the bassist, who will respond with a little bloobidy-bloobidy-blum. They just aren’t that heavy.
Track 4: Okay here we go, the death ‘n black have returned. If you have ADD, please take an Adderall prior to listening. This spastic track contains so many different riffs and tempo changes that it’s almost impossible to stay on track. This is a progressive black/death band doing their version of the Dillinger Escape Plan. Give ‘er a listen and see what I mean:
Track 5: “The Grand Equalizer.” If the last track was Stargazer doing DEP, this is them doing Pink Floyd. This 11-minute opus takes a patient ear, but rewards in spades. (Side note: in college I knew two kinds of Pink Floyd fans, those who enjoyed the entirety of “Echoes” and those who just liked the short version from the greatest hits; this song is clearly for the former). “The Grand Equalizer” is a slow burner; jazzy in the beginning before transitioning into the main riff. You’re going to hear a killer guitar solo followed by a… bass solo! Then the song eases into quieter territory (akin to the middle portion of “Echoes”) with the drummer really owning the show. In keeping with the Pink Floyd comparison, stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with the final few minutes of rock, for they return to the main riff with a new found sense of energy. It’s like they finally merged with the boundless.
Tracks 6 and 7: “Ride the Everglade of Reogniroro” is a bit of a return to form, and the main riffs really reminds me of my favorite track by the band, “…Of The Sun”. It’s 3 minutes and 20 seconds of the Stargazer of old. There’s ferocious tremolo picking, traditional double bass drumming, and a few skronky surprises thrown in for good measure (they must be aware of TovH’s collective love for such moments). The final track of the album “Incense and Aeolian Chaos” seems to have the most cohesion. One can tell that they wanted a memorable track to close it off, one with the fewest amount of WTF?! moments. The riffs are fast, they keep the jazzing to a minimum, and in the final moments they really go in for that punch of closure. For an album with so many different riffs and time changes, this was a great track to end it on.
So in the end, about half of the songs really grab you by the throat, then knee you in the crotch. The other half do a great job of showcasing the different artists’ skills and jazz influence without being too bludgeoning… and I think a fair amount of listeners may take umbrage at this fact. And then there are the tracks that will have you scratching your head, attempting to make sense of it all. Or maybe that pure, organized chaos is going to be right up your alley? Somebody once asked me (you know who you are) if “an old man might like this band,” and I truly believe that the answer is “FLUSH YES!” Stargazer isn’t a band of gimmicks. They don’t chase trends, and I doubt they even know words like “breakdown” or “djent.” They are skilled musicians and songwriters, first and foremost. There may be a little jazzy circlejerking but they’re 100% professional. One can understand the longer time periods between albums.
“A Merging to the Boundless” does not shred with the consistency of previous releases; and at times it sounds as if the longer instrumental passages weren’t planned; as if the musicians are playing off one another as a long inside joke. But, in the end, these faults don’t stop this from being a very good album. It’s a difficult listen, one that rewards with a good pair of headphones and high dose of focus.
I want you folks to sound off in the comments section (like that’ll take much persuasion)! Tell us your favorite Stargazer song, or let us know if this is your first time hearing of them.
You can purchase A Merging to the Boundless here (Nuclear War Now productions). While you’re at it, buy their first two albums Scream that Tore the Sky and A Great Work of Ages… these albums are simply classic and 100% unflushable.