Astronoid – Radiant Bloom Review

In the six years that have passed since Astronoid’s first LP, I have yet to hear a debut record spring from the ether as novel and fully realized as Air. While possessing a youthful vigor and innocence characteristic of an enthusiastic upstart, Air sounded like the product of several albums’ worth of honed identity. As Mark Z so eloquently summarized, however, that once-perfect brew of black metal, post-rock, and shoegaze became unbalanced with Astronoid’s self-titled follow up. Its songwriting was flat, its energy and atmosphere were tempered, and they took away the fucking blastbeats; an automatic point deduction for any metal record. I’m happy to report, then, that Radiant Bloom is something of a return to form, even if it doesn’t recapture the full glory of Air.

First, let’s answer the most important question: yes, the blastbeats are back, making Radiant Bloom an improvement over Astronoid by default. Sure, some relatively unassuming tracks eschew them entirely, but even those songs make a great showcase for the return of Astronoid’s sugary, dream-like nostalgia that largely eluded their grasp on the self-titled record. The meat of Radiant Bloom, though, is defined by alternating bouts of joyous energy and surprising weight. “Sedative” and “Orchid” see Astronoid taking delight in cribbing bouncy rhythms straight from the pop punk playbook. Elsewhere, “Sleep Whisper” is anchored by droning riffs and hammering, doom-adjacent drums. “Human” may be the record’s highlight, though, its ship-in-a-storm viking metal verse cleverly contrasting the angelic qualities of latter-day Devin Townsend in the chorus. Radiant Bloom might be Astronoid’s most naturally eclectic record, playfully poking at the boundaries of the band’s style while staying true to what makes it distinct and appealing.

For all its charms, Radiant Bloom is bound to sound somewhat disappointing for those familiar with Astronoid’s previous heights. While authentically awash in the same dreamy atmosphere as the albums that preceded it, atmosphere can only compensate so much for the lack of gripping songwriting. Air was packed with hugely dynamic compositions where deep valleys swelled to dramatic, satisfying peaks in the back half. With Radiant Bloom, Astronoid presents most of what each track has to offer within the first two minutes. Even songs like “Admin” or “Decades” that offer slower, more linear builds to their conclusions lack satisfyingly dramatic payoffs. This isn’t to say these songs are bad or even mediocre; aside from the relatively featureless “Drown,” I find it easy to set criticisms aside and bathe in Radiant Bloom’s glow. I just wish it offered a bit more to chew on.

Production-wise, it’s business as usual for Astronoid: ethereal, shoegaze-y guitar effects awash with reverb, counterweighted by decently impactful drums and bass to ground the proceedings. It’s an instantly recognizable aesthetic that fits the band perfectly, so aside from a few mixing tweaks, it’s no surprise that Radiant Bloom sticks closely to the sound of its sister records. While Astronoid has relied less on instrumental acrobatics since the days of Air, songs like “Eyes” and “Sedative” still offer room for tight riffs and spectacular solos. These bursts of showmanship grant Radiant Bloom welcome shots of instrumental personality among the broader atmospheric brush strokes. My sole sticking point with the performances is that vocalist Brett Boland, for whatever reason, sounds more nasally and thin than on past releases. His style has long been divisive, but I’d always detected an undercurrent of angst in his vocals, and that edge has seemingly dulled with this release. Whether that change boils down to the production or to the natural evolution of Boland’s voice eludes me.

I feel compelled to echo the words of Mark Z’s Astronoid review as I close: “If this was Astronoid’s first album, I would probably rate it a bit higher.” I realize that my criticisms of its songwriting may sound harsh, but in reality, I came pretty close to bumping up the score. Astronoid can and has written much better songs than those on Radiant Bloom, and it’s hard to ignore the missed potential on even a casual listen. Yet it is a still notable improvement over its immediate predecessor and does a better job of capturing the spirit of what made Astronoid so captivating in the first place. In any case, I’m more confident as a fan of this band going forward, and I’ll look forward to their next record with active interest rather than mild curiosity.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps
Label: 3DOT Recordings
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: June 3rd, 2022

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