Review Summary: stripped down without being barren, straight-forward without being contrived - Stargazer is a confident and enjoyable EP that will leave you wanting much more.
Taking an extreme sound palette like black metal and taking it in other directions has never been the easiest task without bogging down the soundscape and coming away with a confused husk of ideas. That is, unless you're willing to bypass the boundaries and expectations set of you as a 'black metal band'. Astronoid, a US black metal project, do just this by bringing quite a few sets of sounds to the mix without muddying it up and keeping the intentions of the music straight-forward - all of the fat of their influences trimmed out so it sounds kind of like all of them but mostly like none of them.
Despite being as straight-forward as it is however, describing it accurately isn't the easiest task. Imagine some of the atmospherics and instrumentation associated with black metal but with certain elements of shoegaze rock and arguably pop music, particularly in the construction and pacing of the tracks. Distorted tremolo-picked riffs buzz beneath the upbeat drum beats that take as much from power metal as black metal. Cover them with with clean male vocals under a barrage of space-like effects and you're all but covered. It's a strange sound that somehow manages to sound natural and integral, and not only that but it's written well and is relatively reserved. The EP consists of two metal tracks along with two ambient 'interludes' that break them up and these tracks are varied enough to keep you interested right to the end - even if that end comes far too soon.
The more black metal tinged song, 'The Stargazer', is a catchy affair with some great guitarwork and riffs strung together with a rather conventional song structure which surprisingly doesn't detract from the freshness of the song. The vocals are right at the forefront, rather different from the shoegaze-black-metal bands that hide behind a barrage of guitar, though soaked in effects to sound very distinctive - and it serves the atmosphere very well. The only real complaint is that the drums become repetitive and lifeless by the end of the track but the song still feels shorter than it actually is, which is impressive. The second metal track, Lightspeed, is much of the same but not too similar to feel like a rehash with the drumbeats and progressions that almost remind me of power metal but with all of the atmospherics and flair of the first track - it's an interesting rendition with very few flaws to speak of and much to praise, the vocals being quite the highlight here.
Astronoid takes many of the tropes of the relatively new 'blackgaze' movement and none of the elements that can be used as a crutch - Stargazer sounds confident and direct, as well as right on the money as far as making a sound like this work. Where pop and black metal sound like they work on a complete antithesis to each other, Astronoid do justice to both and come away with an EP that's enjoyable enough to claim that the only real issue is the lack of length. Stripped down without being barren, straight-forward without being contrived; Stargazer is an enjoyable EP that will leave you wanting more and subsequently, wondering why there isn't more of it already.