Don’t roll your eyes, please, but I don’t mind when I find metal records calming or tranquil. The reason bands such as Cynic, latter Anathema, and Ulver always resonate with me is because they are something beyond the brutal and devastating and instead put their music in a more imaginative, sometimes dream state. I don’t need thrashed all the time, and when a record can move me from the inside, that’s a welcome experience.
Digging into “Prisoner of Sunlight,” the debut full-length record from Austaras, gave me that exact feeling. While there is rocky terrain and explosive sections, so much of this record make it feel like I’m catapulting through the clouds, on my way to the sun. Violence isn’t on the tip of my tongue. Instead, I find I’m stretching my mind and immersing myself in the band’s liquidy passages. While post-black metal remains a part of the band’s base, they’ve really pushed much further on this record, fully embracing soaring prog rock, jazzy sounds, and also some stormy weather to keep you aware of your surroundings. It’s easy to get swept away during these songs, and this has been a record I’ve turned to quite a bit the past two weeks as work has piled up on top of me.
Austaras, based in Chicago, have been active nearly a decade now, but the only other release they have under their belt is a 2011 EP “Under the Abysmal Light.” This new effort is not as dark and thorny as that one, but as noted, it trades some of those elements for a path more cosmically enlightening. The band is comprised of primary members John Becker (vocals, guitars, violin, viola, analog synth), Adam Hansen (vocals, drums, percussion), and Shane Hill (guitars), as well as Jeremy Eberhard (synth, piano), and Richard Stancato (bass), who were a crucial part of the studio creation. The band’s work here seems like fluid, ever-changing being itself. You never know where you’re headed next, be it straight down into a murky valley or right into the sky, but that’s part of the adventure. The vocals almost are entirely devoid of growls, and the combination of Becker and Hansen’s singing gives this a softer, more reflective touch that sets the band apart.
“Deserter” is the first taste of Austaras’ expanded sound, complete with elegant guitar playing, synth waves, and eventually a charged-up tempo met with rich clean vocals. “Desert the path honored by ruins,” it is urged, as the band slips in spacious solos, prog twists, and a nice bit of crunch at the end. “Thrones” has spacey keys that surge into bursts, with soulful, soaring guitars shooting out like beams of light, and the singing blending right in. The drums rattle away, while the band takes some colorful angles, the synth feels like a cool breeze, and acoustic guitars settle before one final burst. “Refractions” is a slow-moving piece, with clean sounds trickling, the guitar work glimmering brightly, and a moody sentiment creating a shadow over the song. “Threshold” has a damn nice riff that brings you in, sticking with you and pushing you into a more rock-oriented segment. “Enter and be judged,” as the singing takes the reins, the song gets edgier as it goes, and a melding of synth and power at the end is punctuated by the first gnarly growls of the record.
“Ossify” has clean guitars dripping, moody, gentler passages sprawling out, and even a woodsy sequence that gives the track a little bit of a rustic feel to it. “Fractures,” which runs 10:05 and doesn’t feel nearly that long, then erupts from the gates, blistering and making impacts on the ground. The singing once again is really strong here, as the track goes from the volcanic to settled and back again, with the urge of, “Sever your mind from all physical borders,” hanging in the air and circling your mind. A synth fog settles in, and out of that comes some great soloing that cuts its way through and toward the rousing group callback of, “Into the fractures we shall fall, never to return.” Really good track. “Reflections” brings things back down again, as it is filled with acoustic strumming and wordless harmonies, leading you into the instrumental finale “Seaworthy.” Here, clean guitar, looping bass, and jazzy rhythms take hold, creating a foggy picture. Guitars take a heavier role as the song progresses, burning brightly over everything, and then things really open up and chug about halfway through. The scene gets murkier and serene as the track winds to a close, with waves crashing, a mist creating a film over your face, and the album floating off into the distance, ever so slowly until you no longer can make out its image.
Austaras’ work is indicative of a band that, while metal at heart, doesn’t feel the need to be a slave to any one sound. They put so many different colors and textures into “Prisoner of Sunlight” that is really is a record that has new things to discover with each listen. This is a really enjoyable, adventurous album, and Austaras is a band whose future direction really is anyone’s guess. And it’ll be pretty awesome following them on that ride.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/austarasband
To buy the album (available Nov. 6), go here: https://austaras.bandcamp.com/