Drops of Heart – Stargazers Review

As a rule, I rather like El Cuervo. I kind of have to – he’s the only Angry Metal Writer I’ve actually met in person.1 More importantly, we share a reasonably similar taste in music, which is why when he announced that he would be unable to cover Stargazers, the sophomore full-length by melodeath/metalcore Russians Drops of Heart, I decided I could probably manage two reviews this week2 and snatched it up. It wasn’t until after I started listening that I remembered that El Cuervo rarely samples his promos in advance, so our shared taste was actually no indication at all that I was going to enjoy this. Oh well. Too late to turn back now.

Although “melodeath/metalcore” is rarely a good thing around here, the greatest strength of Stargazers is how very well Drops of Heart are able to merge these styles together. Stargazers boasts a unified, cohesive sound in the rough style of Soilwork (whose vocalist guests on “Starlight,” so that’s probably not a coincidence), preferring their metalcore influences over their melodeath ones. As the record opens with “Echoes,” you might mistake this for an album of pure melodeath in the style of Scar Symmetry, at least until the rhythm guitars begin chugging away. Big, blocky, and very typical of the style, they quickly give way to roars and cleans that both scream “metalcore band ready to take on 2008.” These might ordinarily be the warning signs of a tepid and uninspired record, but Drops of Heart refuse to stay in one place for too long, incorporating synths, well-timed reprises, and moments of emotional resonance to keep the song varied and the listener alert. This theme continues throughout the whole of Stargazers – all 60 minutes of it.

Normally, I’d be the first in line (or, ironically, right behind El C) to complain about a record having such length, but Drops of Heart once again subvert my expectations in a positive way. Without falling into such categories as “ballad tracks,” “fast tracks,” and “ordinary tracks,” Stargazers instead finds its variety in an emotional spectrum ranging from bleakness to hopefulness. From the terrifically catchy leads on “Cofin” and “Discoverers” to the contemplative “Starlight,” Drops of Heart are consistently engaging. Just enough melodeath is injected into the music to keep the album from feeling stale, and this is expressed especially well in the vocal versatility. Cleans, rasps, growls, and roars decorate nearly every song on Stargazers, with the guitars offering similar flexibility in melodeath leads, heavy chugs, and the occasional shredding solo. It may not sound like much, but Drops of Heart seem to understand the absolute need for versatility this record demands to succeed. And succeed it does.

So you have songs like “Lull” that take a slow and measured approach to metalcore, and songs like “Coffin” that take an aggressive approach to melodeath; you’ve got “Death Lover,” which drops a saxophone, and “Discoverers,” whose ending solo shred gives way to violins. Throughout it all, Drops of Heart play their… hearts… out, aided by a clear production and well-balanced mix (give or take a wayward bass guitar, which I’m sure is in there somewhere, given how prominent the guitars sound). I won’t claim it’s all amazing, or that it even bypasses every core-related hiccup we’re all so tired of dealing with – some of the clean vocal passages certainly lack variety and if it weren’t for the strong leads, the guitars would not be too memorable – but Stargazers still stands out for making sixty minutes go by much faster simply by refusing to remain predictable.

If, like me, you’d agree that anything-core isn’t quite your cup of tea, I’d respond by telling you to check out Stargazers anyway. Drops of Heart make up for the genre’s often-cited shortcomings with strong songwriting, emotional content, and great performances. Often bleak and occasionally uplifting, Stargazers has resonated with me in a way that twelve-track albums just… don’t. It’s a strange world, but I’m not complaining. Good music is good.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: dropsofheart.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/dropsofheartmetal
Released Worldwide: July 22, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Which is bizarre, considering where we live, but I digress.
  2. Ah, optimism.
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