Metal offers incalculable aural interpretations of outer space. Darkspace focuses on the inhospitable nature of the infinite vacuum. Gamma Ray pitches a trip through a black hole as the ultimate roller coaster ride. Ghost Bath dwells on the melancholic isolation of the cosmos while also sounding like something out of Sonic Adventure. Yet it takes Iapetus just over three minutes to craft a moment more compelling than any of those with their sophomore LP, The Body Cosmic. A recitation of Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric” gives way to a soaring, soulful lead guitar line while background sweep picking paves an immaculate cosmic highway for steamrolling blastbeats. This passage immediately establishes Iapetus‘ unbreakable certainty of the validity of humankind amidst the endless void. It just as quickly cements The Body Cosmic‘s status as an uncommonly special record.

The Body Cosmic is a lot of things, but at its core, it’s a progressive melding of melodic death and black metal. The rhythm guitars stick to relatively simple yet effective patterns, serving mainly to anchor the towering tapestries of tremolo riffs. Those explosive passages make for some of the most breathtaking music I’ve heard all year, and Iapetus understands that the connecting tissue between them must be equally vital. It’s in those interludes between the four main compositions, as well as transitional moments within those tracks, where the band instills palpable humanity. There, heart-rending acoustic guitar and piano passages ground the record in nearly neofolk levels of gorgeous, classic simplicity. This highly dynamic songwriting never feels forced, providing perfect framing for The Body Cosmic‘s theming of the importance of love amidst the incomprehensible vastness of space.

Iapetus is tonally consistent so as to never sound disjointed, yet there is ample variety found within The Body Cosmic. The title track offers an interstellar spin on Deafheaven‘s ever-reaching influence; “I Contain Multitudes” echoes the grandiose, accessible prog of Devin Townsend; “The Star of Collapse” makes way for Opeth-esque grooves amidst its blastbeat salvos. Those salvos come courtesy of a guest spot by Ne Obliviscaris‘ Dan Presland, who imbeds understated technical depth within deceptively straightforward rhythms to craft some of this year’s strongest kitwork. He doesn’t outshine Iapetus’ main duo of Jordan Navarro and Matthew Cerami, as their lead guitar work possesses significant emotional nuance. Cerami’s harsh vocals, though powerful, are a relative low point of The Body Cosmic, but only because they lack the dynamism that defines much of the album.

The vocals would have been less grating had they been better integrated into the mix; as is, they sound somewhat displaced. Otherwise, The Body Cosmic is a lush, colorful sounding record, with a well balanced (if somewhat flat) mix and no notable production foibles to distract from the listening experience. This is important, as what Iapetus has achieved is the kind of engrossing experience that begs for deep listening. That seems like a tall order at seventy minutes, yet The Body Cosmic flies by like few records can. In a year packed with great examples of extreme progressive metal, Iapetus stands near the top of the heap, channeling death metal aggression into a fiery passion for humanity’s place in the universe. After hearing what they have to say, I kinda hope we all make it.

Tracks to Check Out: “The Body Cosmic,” “I Contain Multitudes,” “For Creatures Such as We”