- by Nathaniel FitzGerald
Over the last few years, there's been a huge shift in the metalsphere. Several metal bands have been pushing hard against the conventional boundaries around the genre to redefine what exactly metal is. It's difficult to pin down exactly where it began (my guess is Alcest), but one thing is certain: metalhead purists hate it. Just mention Deafheaven to anyone in a Slayer t-shirt and watch them start foaming at the mouth.
Personally, I can't get enough. As someone whose record collection spans from death metal to glam pop, I have been absolutely thrilled by the movement to pry metal from the greasy-haired, leather-vested, church-burning, tough-guy machismo that has defined the genre for so long. I am fascinated by the scores of bands that have combined metal tropes with conventions from other genres.
Any conversation about bands that are stretching metal to its limit would be incomplete without mentioning Astronoid. The Boston-based quartet has been playing their brand of atmospheric, melodic metal since 2012. On their 2016 record Air, they coined the term "dream thrash" for their sound. And as pretentious as that might sound, it completely hits the mark. Air was rife with the same machine-gun drum beats, chugging guitar riffs, and blazing guitar solos that were pioneered by bands like Metallica and Megadeth, all accompanied by airy, unhurried vocals. It was a simple formula, but by God, it worked.
Their new self-titled record continues what Air got right and builds on it. It has all the same blistering riffage and gentle melodies, and nearly every guitar solo is performed by two guitars in harmony. But where Air was a little bit samey, Astronoid expands the palette a bit. The third track, "Lost," is sparser than anything they've done before, with clean, reverb-drenched guitars dancing in the atmosphere above a tight groove from the rhythm section. "I Wish I Was There When The Sun Set" opens with the heaviest riff they've ever written. "Beyond The Scope" creates a dark atmosphere of industrial-sounding synths before coming in with a plodding march.
But through all of their varying tempos and dynamics, the group never leaves their melodic sensibilities. Brett Boland's vocals are cleaner than clean, delivered without any hint of aggression. At times, the melodies are even reminiscent of the emo and pop punk bands I grew up listening to, like Jimmy Eat World, Blink-182, and Rufio (note: all of that is high praise).
I've listened through this record about ten times now, and each listen is more rewarding than the last. While Air was a brilliant reappropriation of thrash conventions, Astronoid proves that their sound is more than an experiment in genre hopping.