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Scardust - Strangers CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

4.38 | 62 ratings

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5 stars I remember when I first came across Scardust's debut album, "Sands of Time". It was one of my most surprising and exciting musical discoveries and it wasn't long before I became a fan of the band. Their debut has been a constant on my playlist and proudly stood the test of time, so when the sophomore release "Strangers" came to being, I was all over this beauty in no time. Scardust's sound on the first record felt to me like a mashup of many different influences, ranging from progressive metal classics like Dream Theater, and a remarkable Symphony X resemblance in the guitar leads to symphonic metal soundscapes akin to Nightwish or Epica. But it had something else as well, a touch of originality and a unique vibe that set it apart, a sort of fingerprint that belongs to Scardust alone, and can't be compared to anything else. And that is the element that made it special.

Looking at their newest release, many things have changed, but many stayed the same, which is the ideal recipe for a follow-up in my books. They still sound like themselves, still carry the same influences and musical building-blocks to composition, but there's been some boosting going on. I would say the band similarities have dimmed to some degree, allowing for their own spark to shine brighter. Their sound is better defined, arguably even more eclectic and develops an even stronger character. The technical and progressive aspects now take a turn for the more extreme, flashy and shocking approach, making this album as over-the-top as it gets when it comes to displaying virtuosity and complexity. But the counter-part, comprised of sweet, infectious melodies, hooky chorus lines and bouncy grooves is also enhanced, keeping the balance in check while the extremes push further.

On drums, we find a maelstrom of odd-times, syncopated patterns and tricky unpredictability that often throws you off, just to grab you back in by falling into clear double bass parts, grooves and headbang inducing drops. The level of detail on cymbals, strums and transitions, as well as the fluidity and cohesion to which the different ideas are fused together makes it an all-round engaging, creative and impressive structural backbone for the music. On bass and guitars, there's a tremendous back-and-forth between heaviness, melody and groove going on. At times, the bass lays down the chonk all on its own, leaving the guitar parts to go all flowery, through the lead melodies and eclectic riffage (see main riff in "Stranger"). Also, the guitar riffs have a sense of forward-movement and lightness of motion that allows the music to soar, while the bass often counter-balances that effect with a good dose of impact, expanding the soundscape on different levels. The keyboard parts are very diverse and complex, ranging from loud, fuzzy effects and fast runs (see keyboard theme in "Tantibus II") to softer, more delicate or atmospheric sounds (harpsichord effect in "Break the Ice") or piano sound, going even for a jazzy approach on some occasions (most notably in "Under").

Sounds like a lot? Well, that's before we even get to where the madness happens. Every member of this band puts up a ridiculous show when it comes to solos. Guitar, bass, keys and even drums will take turns in the spotlight, unleashing all they have to shock and impress, but will do so in a manner that doesn't disrupt the flow and continuity of the music. I feel that the energy Scardust aims for, is often so intense and exciting that this sort of shreddy, technical madness rather enhances their expressive value instead of diminishing it. And the players bring a lot of character on display, making their instruments come alive and speak through the sonic motions. It's not about the skill as such, but about exploiting it as much as possible to extract every ounce of energy and emotion you can from a song. And they interact a lot, alternating who takes the lead in order to create this back and forth dynamic in the lead sections that starts breathing life, as if you're seeing a cinematic scene with many simultaneously moving pieces. And that actually makes perfect sense given the "theatrical" tag they sometimes use to describe themselves. Of course, there are also the more tender moments. And I feel like all the elements used throughout the madness are equally put on display when the music slows down ("Break the Ice" and "Mist" are the best examples). We still have solos, complex time signatures and a lot of underlying technicality, but the aggression ceases, the details and melodies take hold and a story-like fantasy atmosphere emerges.

When the instruments themselves have so much vibrant energy bursting out of them, you need a vocalist that lives up to the hype, and Noa Gruman is just that. As with all the instruments, on vocals we also see a wide range of techniques being used from energetic rock/metal singing ("Concrete Cages", "Gone") to operatic moments ("Mist"), soft and cheesy emotions ("Break the Ice" and "Mist") all the way to rap screaming ("Under") death growls ("Over"). And once again, the variety is not used for the sake of technical display, but for bringing in the right flavour for each song. She brings an outstanding presence and charisma to the table, displaying a wide range of emotions so intensely and with such ease. And to top all that off, she also has a solo, on the song "Concrete Cages", which might be one of the most flamboyant and surprising tricks I've ever seen pulled off in a song.

The concept of "Strangers" refers to being estranged from one-another, from things you love or even from yourself, and this idea manifests itself in every detail of the music, from the sound textures to the composition and the structure of the album as a whole. It is built in a contrasting manner. It offers both raw sounds and super refined details. It feels both natural ("Huts", "Gone") and industrial or maybe even electronic to some extent ("Addicted", "Tanitbus II"). And apart from the first track, "Overture for the Estranged", which introduces all the main themes seen on the album in a medley approach, all other songs are built in pairs of 2, and separated in a symmetrical order between the first and second half of the album.

As mentioned previously, this album is as much symphonic as it is progressive. The classical influences in the composition are strongly noticeable and the use of a string quartet and lots of choirs also gives it the sound and feels it needs to truly stand as symphonic. The choirs especially do a fantastic job emphasizing the dramatic nature of the music, creating a sense of interaction with Noa's lead vocals, as well as with the string quartet and lead sections (most noticeable in "Addicted"). And as final touches, there is a children's choir on "Huts", giving a unique sense of brilliance and innocence to the song, and an amazing guest performance by Patty Gurdy (hurdy gurdy musician YouTuber) on "Concrete Cages". She offers both her voice and the sound of her unique instrument for the longest track on the record, making it into a truly epic piece and boosting that amazing contrast between raw and modern textures, with all the prog metal going on sounding so hi-fi and the gurdy getting folky, almost medieval in sound. At the end of it all, I can't even fathom how they crammed so many different influences, instruments and ideas in just over 50 minutes of music, especially balancing them out so well that it doesn't even feel tiresome or overdone. Everything fits in exactly where it should, putting together what is undoubtedly my album of the year for 2020!

AndreiDan37 | 5/5 |


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