You know, I consider myself pretty open-minded when it comes to outré metal subgenres, but when the crunchy leaves/footsteps/pebbles/sticks and bells segue into chirps, playground singing and flutes one does wonder exactly what Aastral Projections' envisioned target audience is and whether this deranged fever dream doesn't just put them at the risk of going permanently over the edge.
Aastyra, a side project from one of the Canadians behind Prophecy-signed act Finnr's Cane, is a bit of an enigma. One part high-speed computerized symphonic black metal á la Limbonic Art, one part Coil-esque sound collages, some early Tangerine Dream cosmic meandering – and yeah, I'm sure we can fit those high-octane retro synth soundtracks in somewhere as well, bring it on. Oh, and let's keep it wholly instrumental, except for the parts where ethereal female crooning comes floating through. I don't want to do a track-by-track description, but Aastyra's constant genre-hopping antics more or less force my hand.
Aastral Projections is kicked off by a short, abstract soundscape featuring industrial clanging and blaring that might as well have fallen out of Nurse With Wound's, uh, wound, before the listener is run over by “Interstellar Death Race” – which title, you'll find out, really says everything about both this song and the only two other tracks that are unambiguously metal: although saccharinely synth-dominated – and gloriously so, repetitive but fluid melodies bleeping and blooping their way up and down the cosmic canvas while guitars, almost trumpet-like by virtue of their braaap-y texture, pump the song forward with one-note riffs – it's lightning-fast, features machine-gun percussion and even though its cheese requires some suspension of disbelief, it's worth your while. With regards to the other two BM songs, “Xenopia” keeps the synth-monsoon but allows the guitars a tad more freedom and dynamics, while the vicious “The Mechanical Womb” relegates the electronics to the role of background ambience to make space for Thorns-style industrial savagery – complete with apathetic mantras and the only occurence of harsh vocals on the album.
But that's only the sane side of Aastral Projections. After “Interstellar Death Race”'s sci-fi mayhem, we get “Terra”, which I alluded to in the first paragraph: is this muzak for schizophrenics? The heavily jingle-and-loop-dependant structure of the song contrasts starkly with the sylvan scene it's supposed to represent, and brings to mind images of the internet in its puberty, trying to simulate a glade, or something. It's without a doubt the most unique track on the album, but its random nature and tonal awkwardness detracts from its replay value, and after the initial novelty has worn off I can only see it remaining interesting as an ASMR-track, not as a song. Following “Terra”, “Of Spirit And Captivity” takes things back to relative although unimpressive normalcy by presenting the listener with three mournful minutes of ghostly, reverberating wailing, which, while rather dragging (and that at only 3 minutes' length), does set the scene for “Wanderer Of The Postapocalypse” – a pensive, synth-driven ambient piece moving forward at a glacial pace, evoking images of abandoned space stations and distant nebulae. Over the course of nearly ten minutes (the longest running time of any track on Aastral Projections), it gets reinforced by the sighs encountered in the previous song – not nearly as irritating this time around – until, just after the halfway mark, it gets propulsed into a shimmering rhythm, as if the vessel's systems suddenly start flickering into activity again. By the end of the song, everything's online and whirring, and the whole thing just sounds cohesive and cathartic and cool. The most intricate and succesful ambient piece of the album, no doubt.
“Adversary”, then, matches predecessor “Xenopia”'s thrill and pace, but channels this through fast-paced synthwave/electro/whatever, not unlike the French Perturbator – which project, coincidentally, also enjoys quite some popularity amongst the metal crowd. It's well-written, contains lots of little details and, weird piano-loop outro notwithstanding, it succeeds in its retro ambitions. Finishing the album is “Shadowmirror”; a moody synth-fest recalling cosmic carnival tunes (what else did you expect, with such a cheerful title) where some guitars might lie buried beneath the waves of fuzz, but I honestly can't tell.
So, does Aastral Projections work? A comparison to Thy Catafalque – the closest project Aastyra has to a genre-mate – reveals that the album lacks flow: the description should already have made this obvious, but there is next to no continuity in the songs' transitions, which the extreme diversity certainly could have made use of. Many songs on the album also exhibit the curiously contradictory double defiency of both being overly repetitive and causing a sensory overload due to the sheer amount of impulses at any given second, both of which result in headaches. Everything sounds inspired and fresh, to a certain degree; the metal parts are accomplished, the synth compositions are way above arbitrary black metal interlude quality, and there's undeniably a sense of purpose to all of this – the problem being that this purpose has no regard for the listener – but in the end I'm quite ambiguous in my feeings towards Aastral Projections. Give it a listen for novelty's sake if nothing else and, if you're a fan of any of the bands mentioned, maybe you'll find something to like here as well.
Just keep some aspirin handy.