Review Summary: Welcome to the wild world of psychedelic post-sludge, courtesy of the aptly named Astrohenge...
Astrohenge are a London, England based quartet who churn out psychedelic influenced sludge metal.
Before even listening to the music, the most immediately striking thing about this album is the cover artwork, which in many ways is keen visual conveyance of Astrohenge's trippy brand of metal. This album feels a lot like the 1998 cult-classic movie Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas, when the familiar surroundings of post-metal and sludge soundscapes become slightly out-of-joint in a way only an experienced explorer of the inner cosmos could muster the imagination to comprehend on a meaningful level.
If one was to take the more aggressive edge of Mastodon's Blood Mountain, couple it with the looming and thunderous climaxes of a late 90's Neurosis album, and give it a healthy dose of LSD, they would end up with Astrohenge. However as immaculately delicious as that combination sounds, it is not without its pitfalls.
Astrohenge is an album that really needs to be heard multiple times to settle in. Much like one's first psychedelic trip, after first indulgence most will be left bewildered by an experience so beyond the confines of our per-conceived reality that not much valuable will be taken away from the initial experience. However like tripping, it won't take an open-minded listener much to be drawn in again. In overall grand scope Astrohenge's self-titled initially serves up a fascinating listen that suffers slightly from monotony, chiefly due to the fact that unlike Neurosis and the likes, these guys don't craft wandering epics like Enemy Of The Sun and Through Silver In Blood that encapsulate the listener for an hour and a half, but rather take a number from Mastodon, crafting shorter, more concise songs. This formula works well for them, but simultaneously detracts from the album's wow factor when consumed in its entirety. And here lies the only real inherent flaw with Astrohenge; as delicious as their music is, the seeming lack of hooks that drag you through minutes of music at a time seem to be absent.
Considering the absence of epic solos, wild polymeters and double tapped bass fills, Astrohenge do display a very keen ear for music theory. All members are very capable instrumentalists and none of them fall prey to a lack of attention grabbing musical ideas. Drawing inspirations and wearing them on your sleeve can sometimes garner a backlash from fans of a scene, but these fellas have found a way around this by turning up the psychedelic dial considerably. Distortion can sweep through the entire soundscape at times, encapsulating the whole sonic atmosphere and turning it on its head. At other times, (and surprisingly frequently I should add) is the presence of a piano, which shows itself often, but isn't overdone. Take note I'm quite picky when it comes to keys in my metal, but I can think of only a couple bands that pull it off better than these guys.
The production on this album is immaculate. Giving metal a good, balanced sounding mix is no easy task for a music producer. Who ever worked on this LP is a master; for a debut album to be as almost as well produced as a late ISIS album is truly impressive. The guitar tones always fit, and there is plenty of layering happening here, which makes this music like an onion, each listen peeling off another, kaleidoscopic layer. And yes, the drums are fantastic. All the good sludge bands have a drummer who knows his way around the toms, and Astrohenes percussion is no exception. All this while hosting the infrequent but always fitting voice sample in the background.
As an instrumental act, Astrohenge lean totally on their tools to do the speaking, and do so with flying colors matched only by their album cover. If these guys were a baseball pitcher, most of their throws would be knuckleballs; the emotional soundscapes oscillate wildly from urgency to melancholia, joviality and frustration, while never sounding cheesy. Again, the psychedelic influences shine through here, as shedding even an ever-so-slight glimpse into the world of psychedelic induced psychosis and wonder is no easy task when presented with only one medium to convey it. Given such a task it refreshing to see a band pull it off so well, and do so in less than an hour (it seems psychedelic albums drag on most of the time).
In summary, Astrohenge have crafted a worthy debut that fans of Mastodon, Neurosis, ISIS and psychedelic drugs will surely enjoy. The seamless blend of aggression and passivity co-mingling under fractal laced night sky will take the listener on a journey they won't soon forget. However beware, with a poor attention span, the album's fresh ideas can come across as underdeveloped and stunted, detracting from the overall enjoyment of the LP. However this is very much a work of music worth hearing.