Scardust – Strangers (Album Review)

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Estranged from all binding limitations.

Progression does not necessarily consist in discovering something wholly unknown, and more often than not great feats in progressive metal arrive not so much in the fringes of the avant-garde, but in a peculiar mix of conventional practices. This is the territory that has been sought by Israel’s young yet highly consequential export Scardust, a band that can best be described as what Epica might sound like if they’d had a one-off collaboration with Dream Theater, Ayreon and Pain Of Salvation. Having originally entered the worldwide metal scene under the moniker of Somnia and fielding a highly involved EP dubbed “Shadow” in 2015, just prior to changing their name no less, their relatively green career has seen a fair degree of acclaim in progressive circle, buoyed by a massively ambitious and independently financed debut LP in “Sands Of Time” that turned many heads in the summer of 2017.

Though naturally hampered by a number of promotional road blocks given the world events of 2020, the time has been ripe for an equally ambitious follow up, and sophomore studio outing Strangers delivers and then some. Structured as a conceptual work dealing with the broad issue of interpersonal separation, each song is described by vocalist and composer Noa Gruman as being a differing perspective upon how persons become alienated from one another, themselves, family and even society as a whole. This expansive and abstract subject matter is coupled with a highly nuanced, yet accessible collection of chapters that features the collaborative compositional efforts of Orr Didi, whom likewise reprised his role from the previous albums in arranging the orchestration and choral additives surrounding the core musicians, each of whom function like a near perfect homage of Dream Theater’s quartet of instrumentalists supporting James LaBrie’s vocals.

While this band’s back catalog has been heavily impacted by the surrounding orchestration, giving it strongly symphonic feel, this album opts for what could be described as more of a choral affair that is comparable to some of Devin Townsend’s most recent studio endeavors. Right from the onset of opening technical foray “Overture For The Estranged”, the serene textures provided by an ensemble of angelic voices paint an ironic portrait of isolation via beauty. Upon the entry of the instruments, the feel becomes a bit more dramatic, but retains a sense of consonant splendor as the rhythmically nuanced metallic grooves follow, ebbing and flowing between melodic passages and flashy technical runs by each instrumentalist, underscoring the band’s old school progressive metal affinity. Alongside the folksy wanderlust of “Concrete Cages”, featuring the talents of famed hurdy gurdy player and internet sensation Patty Gurdy (whom was also featured on Ayreon’s latest album) no less, the aforementioned exposition number proves the most overtly flashy and prog-infused offering found here.

“Strangers” Album Artwork

As the album unfolds, the bulk of its contents tend to exhibit a sense of brevity and symmetry that’s more in line with traditional songwriting, albeit with many ornaments hung at its fringes. Even the more noodling and dark progressive crusher “Over”, which features some occasional harsher vocal work and more of a chunky, Jeff Loomis character to the riff work, has a very infectious set of recurring melodic hooks, often featured by the backing choir. By the same token, easy going semi-ballad turned triumphant anthems like “Break The Ice” and “Stranger” adhere fairly closely to convention radio-oriented time durations, despite the rapid shifts in feel and the diverse array of rock, classical and jazz influences. Even the genre-bending “Under”, which vacillates between being a heavy rocking affair and a lounge jazz session, has a catchy ring to it that’s impossible to miss. But the pinnacle point of this eclectic opus is the power metal-infused bluster with a side of melodic death “Gone”, which just oozes energy and passion at every single twist and turn.

There are still a couple months left in the year, but it’s pretty safe to say that Scardust has just unleashed something here that’s progressive metal album of the year material. With all of the drama and depressing garbage that has come to typify this opening tenth of the 2020s, this album provides a very bright silver-lining that is sure to break down some barriers that still exist between older school progressive metal fanatics and the younger crowd of symphonic metal trustees that eat up Delain and Epica about as heartily as the former group does Threshold and Vanden Plas. Though it’s billed as an elaborate conceptual work that works best when heard from start to finish, each individual song is a force unto itself that can stand alone for any whom like their noodling progressive anthems in smaller doses. It’s a highly cathartic middle ground between elite technical showmanship and an accessible mainline symphonic affair that has an ironic sense of joyfulness in spite of its lyrical pursuit of alienation, i.e. a masterpiece of musical irony that will fit in quite well with the intellectual crowd to which it plays.

Released by: M-Theory Audio
Released Date: October 30th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Metal

Musicians:

  • Noa Gruman / Vocals,
  • Yadin Moyal / Guitar,
  • Yanai Avnet / Bass,
  • Itay Portugaly / Keyboard,
  • Yoav Weinberg / Drums

“Strangers” track-listing:

  1. Overture for the Estranged
  2. Break the Ice
  3. Tantibus II
  4. Stranger
  5. Concrete Cages
  6. Over
  7. Under
  8. Huts
  9. Gone
  10. Addicted
  11. Mist

9.4 Excellent

One of Israel’s new breakout bands and highly virtuosic progressive metal powerhouse reprises their pursuit of sonic excellence with a high grade conceptual effort that combines the technical extravagance of Dream Theater with the melodic charm of Ayreon.

  • Musicianship 9
  • Songwriting 10
  • Originality 9.5
  • Production 9
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