Much like their home country, Distant Sun are composed of contrasts. The same country which sired Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy and Mendeleev also gave rise to Stalin1, turned a blind eye to mass rapes2 and has one of the most corrupt political systems in the developing world. While not so controversial nor violent, this Moscow-based trio draws equally from both thrash and power metal, pushing their sound a little further on this, their sophomore record. It’s engaging on an immediate listen and certainly fares better than other Russian power metal I’ve reviewed. But also within my responsibilities are a minimum number of mandatory listens and a balanced judgment so spend more time on Into the Nebula I did.
Alexey Markov on guitars and vocals seems to mark much of what occurs on Into the Nebula. His shouts often adopt a Mustaine sneer and he sounds very James Hetfield on “I Do Believe” at the close. But as easily as he draws on these thrash legends he can also emulate Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) very convincingly. These somewhat harsher power-metal wails are most evident in “The Battle that Never Ends” and “The Tharks,” replete with questionable English accent and ridiculous over-singing in the choruses. This duality of thrash and power mimics the trajectory of the album as a whole: splitting its run-time between these two styles, Into the Nebula has a little more to it than you would expect of these component genres individually. While heavy riffs and rollicking drums fall towards the former, the catchy choruses and noodly solos are closer to the latter. The introduction to “God Emperor” is quite chuggy, something like Slayer, but the vocals are proper power metal, leaning heavily on classic metal for influence. This heavier, riffier amalgamation lands the work not far from the likes of Iced Earth.
But divesting the album of its seemingly-central vocal aspect unveils surprisingly great instrumental passages when given their opportunity. Unlike some power bands, the vocals are not a crutch. “Andromeda” is a mid-album instrumental piece and easily one of the highlights. Stripping that melodic aspect pulls out all the stops on the guitars as the riffs, solos, and differing tones thrill and entertain in equal measure. The crunch really gets your neck going while the muted intro and outro has an atmospheric quality quite unlike anything else on Into the Nebula. While there are enjoyable vocal melodies on other songs which also impress, “Andromeda” is by the most musically interesting. Sadly, the absence of this elsewhere is noticeable by comparison and suggests to me that the record could have been much more if such emphasis were placed on the wider instrumentation overall.
And this leaves the remaining album as essentially competent, with a few highlights, but not particularly outstanding. I’m struggling to elucidate specific flaws but the gist is that you’ll hear it, enjoy it, re-listen to the better bits, then put it down forever. The split between two genres ensures things don’t become stale and there are definite moments but my overarching feeling is one of apathy. The rhythms, riffs, and structures don’t vary much and the average tracks are undermined by simply existing next to the above-average ones. The dynamically-limited mastering bolsters this ordinariness as individual parts of the music don’t pop and all tracks have a similar sound.
Distant Sun are the classic example of why middling bands are the most difficult to review: their work is solid for a couple of listens but doesn’t stand up to repetition over the course of a week or two. Those particularly partial to heavier power metal or who quickly cycle through lots of music may take more from their experience but I look for albums which will stick with me for the long-term. I’m afraid Into the Nebula won’t.