Not often do shivers ripple up my spine on my morning commute. I’ll admit this feeling isn’t alien to me. Discovering transportive music that makes my heart swell is my lifeblood. I seek out shiver-inducing music, so much, in fact, that I wonder if I will one day grow immune to it. Despite this, I couldn’t contain my excitement when I rediscovered the response, known as frisson (French for “shiver”), while listening to the orchestral intro track of Astralium‘s debut album Land of Eternal Dreams for the first time. After a quick search, I learned that frisson is, more technically, a psychophysiological response to rewarding auditory and/or visual stimuli that induces a pleasurable affect state and skin tingling or chills. My response makes sense then, because, holy wah, is Land of Eternal Dreams a rewarding auditory experience.
While I was embarrassingly late to hop on the Nightwish bandwagon, I’m all here for the beginning of what I surmise will be Astralium‘s long and storied career. Astralium is an Italian symphonic metal band formed in 2014 by soprano Roberta Pappalardo and bassist Giuseppe Pappalardo. In 2017, they began work for their debut, a concept album concerning dreams and the astral universe. Using a formula that many of the symphonic metal greats before them employed, Astralium takes you on a journey — this time to uncover a fantasy world of vibrations of golden light and color that lives within you. Epic intro track “Remembrance” does a phenomenal job of rolling out the red carpet and filled me with a sense of wonder just as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’s “Evacuating London” or even “Hedwig’s Theme” did for me years ago.
The second track, “The Journey” explodes with bombast from the get go and had me itching with anticipation waiting for Roberta’s voice to materialize. Warm and powerful, her vocals punched through the mix, immediately grabbed my attention, and asserted that Astralium aren’t messing around. I mentioned Nightwish in this review once already, and I continue to do so unapologetically since the Finnish force to be reckoned with is the band Astralium most obviously resembles on their inaugural record. Astralium is not just another Nightwish wannabe, though. Land of Eternal Dreams is Nightwish at their very best for all thirteen tracks, simultaneously heavy, over the top, and full of cheese. With “Wish I Had An Angel” guitar chugs (“Whisper In The Silence”), energetic call and response vocals that remind me of “The Poet And The Pendulum” (“Rising Waves From The Ocean”), and even the march-like feel of “Creek Mary’s Blood” (“Seven Seas, Seven Winds”), I made it a game to find as many well-done Nightwish parallels ripe for the picking as I could. When the midsection of the album began to lose momentum, I was again caught off guard and experienced frisson during “Ethereal Voices From The Past,” my personal favorite track on the album and one that feels distinctly Astralium. The song gives off the aura of a fairy world forest, and Roberta’s tender lyric-less croons levitate above thick swaths of ambiance and crescendoing strings.
While Roberta’s alluring vocals are the standout performance, other contributions to the album should not be overlooked and are just as noteworthy after repeat listens. The production is impeccable, the cinematic orchestral arrangements are sweeping and complex, and Roberta’s lofty vocals periodically give way to reveal dynamic guitar wizardry that would be perfectly at home on a Rhapsody of Fire track. Astralium‘s sole shortcoming worth bringing up is the album’s length. If you make it all the way through the bonus orchestral version of “Hope Is Gone,” the total time spent listening comes in at over 65 minutes. For a band who are exposing their polished work to the world for the first time, that’s a lot to ask, and I wish they had done even some semblance of pruning.
Time and time again, bands have attempted to replicate what Nightwish did for symphonic metal in the late 90s and early 2000s, and more often than not, crash and burn. Astralium burst onto the scene (not unlike Dialith did recently) with a cohesive album that is admittedly vastly inspired by Nightwish‘s grandiose and cinematic sound, but is so delightfully polished and fun that the final product is uniquely their own. From prog metal guitar influences to ruminative ambiance, Land of Eternal Dreams takes symphonic metal one step further to result in an album I will definitely be returning to routinely. Astralium, I’m rooting for you!