Since first listening to Thorns, I’ve wanted nothing more than an equally excellent follow-up to their self-titled release. Seriously, if I was granted three wishes, that would be one of them. But getting this wish granted is as unlikely as having Freddy Krueger drag me kicking and screaming up my bedroom wall and splaying me open on the ceiling [Wish #2? – Steel Druhm]. Instead, I’ve spent years searching for a band that can take the essence of Thorns and make it their own. But is there such an entity? Would they be any good or just come off as a Thorns knockoff? Would they get Paolo Girardi to do the artwork for their album? Is this rant going anywhere? So many questions.
Taking their moniker from a classic Thorns song, Stellar Master Elite have been hiding out in the underworld since 2010; releasing 2011’s I and 2013’s II: Destructive Interference Generator. Since their debut, this German outfit has transitioned from that standard black-metal sound to one overlaid with effects, synths, and the occasional doom and drone. And now they’re back with the third and perhaps finest outing yet. With a couple new employees, and an overall calculated approach to their sound, III: Eternalism – The Psychospherical Chapter finds SME delivering something nostalgic and also unquestionably their own.
III starts off with a unnerving, synthy atmosphere layered with ghoulish black-metal rasps and almost Vader-like guttural expressions before teasing the listener with those familiar razor-sharp, chugging riffs made popular by Thorns (fans will know exactly what I’m talking about). This is only the beginning of a sixty-minute nightmare dragging you through dark chasms whose temperatures unnaturally fluctuate from freezing to unbearably sultry. Just as the atmosphere of the opener seems to equilibrate, “Desperate Grandeur” crushes every bone in your body, leaving you crippled and limp on the cavern floor. The opening riff is simply massive (much like the equally bruising Vader-meets-Satyricon monstrosity, “The First Principle”) and the Vader Peter-isms make for a nasty concoction mixed together with industrial atmospheres and Satyricon-influenced hate. Man, I love this song.
If it isn’t obvious from the first two tracks, the entirety of the album is encased in heavy synths and organs that range from the dramatic Blade Runner-esque uneasiness midway through “Hologram Temple” to an unsettling The Thing-ish air of “Mark of the Beast” and closer “Downfall.” Though consuming, Stellar Master Elite‘s use of sound clips jacked from haunting thrillers or the forgotten times of bad-memory politics (some of the same material found in Sons of Liberty) ensure you remain locked into this frightening house that SME built. Incorporating some doom and drone in numbers like the epic, fourteen-minute title track is the final topping on SME‘s cake. It helps “Eternalism” act as both an overture to the sights and sounds of III and also a black hole where nothing escapes.
Besides the aforementioned thrashy elements that drop like anvils from “Desperate Grandeur” and “The First Principle,” SME expands their creativity with the forever haunting “Perdition Time Loop.” This ten-minute hallucination starts slow and stays slow; incorporating tribal-drum components before surprising the fuck out of you with vocal contributions from The Vision Bleak‘s own Schwadorf. Sounds bizarre but it works like a charm. Besides the guest performances, the vocal contributions from SME‘s newest vocalist represent the missing link to SME‘s sound. E.K.’s vocal array encompasses everything from the Satyr-based rasps on “Buried Oblivion,” to the uncontrollable Maniac-qualities of “The First Principle” and “Mark of the Beast,” to the Vader barks of “Desperate Grandeur” and “Eternalism.” III is further proof that variety isn’t a bad thing.
After the rasps and barks, tremolos and chugs, atmosphere and emotion blow the hinges off the “Eternalism” coffin, the listener is left shaking even after the three-minute synthetic closer shuts everything down. Though some of the tracks run a little long and numbers like “Mark of the Beast” are unnecessary, this album is gigantic and concise, beautiful and harsh, raw and clean. The production is impressively good and the dynamics promise an experience bathed in individual performances, married at the hip like suckers to a tree. No album this year has surprised me more than Stellar Master Elite‘s newest opus and it’s threatening to make room in the gallery of Records ‘o the Year.
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Essential Purification Records
Websites: stellarmasterelite.bandcamp.com | stellarmasterelite.com | facebook.com/stellarmasterelite
Releases Worldwide: October 1st, 2015