Bast bask in the light of the vast. Lengthy compositions are their forte, stringing together gut-wobbling strings of sludge, doom and black metal. Nanoångström is this British three-piece’s second full-length, a record that continues the stylistic approach of 2014 debut Spectres by precariously balancing on the border between black metal and doom metal. In an attempt to do something different with two well explored genres, Bast espouse the black metal moods of Winterfylleth and Altar of Plagues and the sludgy experimentation of Neurosis in a unique post-whatever pie. Let’s see then if Nanoångström manages to shake the foundations.
Disregarding the two minute instrumental opener, the shortest track on Nanoångström is ten minutes with the longest dwelling within the 12-minute realm. We have five tracks of ten minutes, five attempts at smooth genre-bending and grand song composition. Thundering monotone slabs of guitar noise are present, surging through the core of most songs: the antagonist. Lighter black metal inspired tremolo riffing is present too, a counterpart: the protagonist. In between, around, above and beyond, stretches of post-metal inspired tenderness and exploration are common, plodding along with the bass guitar diverging off its usually constrained path and the guitar work carrying a less structured dimension. Songs rarely follow a set structure, meandering, exploring, backtracking and stumbling until they sometimes – not always – reach a final destination. Taken apart like lego bricks isolated parts of Nanoångström sounds strong, but we’re not looking for a montage of disparate moments. When actually listened to in sequence, Nanoångström struggles to retain a listener’s attention.
That’s not to say there aren’t standout tracks. Proper opener “Far Horizons” possesses a furious energy which manages to make its ten minute run time feel shorter. Similarly, closer “The Ghosts Which Haunt the Space Between the Stars,” despite being the longest track on the record, maintains an energy which makes it a much more complete and satisfying listen. These tracks clutch the black metal elements with tightness. Riffs are pacier and more fluid. There’s an unrestrained, restless quality, a cranking, dirtier vibe which allows for a much more natural outpouring of emotion and power. The vocals, too, carry a crusty mid-ranged menace which reverberates and enhances the punkier sludge aspects. When these tracks undoubtedly move into tender post-metal territories the reveries is much more alluring. These tracks aren’t perfect – the moments of pure black metal are rather average riff wise, some lulls are too sleepy, and two minutes could easily be shaved off.
Middle track “Nanoångström” is the strongest track. It travels a different path, preferring to initially writhe within the realms of monotone sludge before veering into quick-fire territories of jam-like blues licks, alternating gruff vocals, and tumbling drumming. The song grows and grows, swelling with energy which builds to satisfying end. Some of the middle tracks are less successful, though. Despite opening and closing well, the atmospheric build up at the heart of “The Beckoning Void” lacks a unique enough touch to warrant a three-minute steady rise. “A Red Line Through Black” attempts to channel funeral doom tones through a sludge and black metal shaped mould. The styles meet but don’t merge, not linking well enough or providing enough true variation to really stand out.
Bast try a lot but I don’t really feel like they achieve a lot. Nanoångström is undoubtedly solid. There are no glaring flaws or faults, but ultimately I feel placid when thinking about the album. When reflecting, I picture a mulch of greyness with the occasional outburst of color which is quick to get swallowed. Despite their attempt at variety, despite some standout moments, everything feels safe. More than anything I look for a real individuality when giving a good rating. Individuality alongside the ability to write good songs is even better. All of this alongside an intriguing concept and clear statement of intent and you’ve got a winner. As the years go by I find it harder and harder to get excited.