Sarcasm – Stellar Stream Obscured Review

If you like old-school Swedeath, old-school black metal, old-school doom, then, sorry, you won’t like this album at all. That was my pitiful attempt at sarcasm. The Sarcasm in question here are a Swedish melodic blackened death metal group who have been knocking about since the late ‘80s. Their veteran status in the scene shows they take their craft a whole lot more seriously than their name might let on. It also prompts the question of whether music that follows a blueprint now 30 years old can still be exciting and compelling, particularly to those too young to feel the nostalgia factor. As someone who sits directly on the Millennial/Gen-Z divide, I can confidently say that Stellar Stream Obscured shows that yeah, it absolutely can.

Sarcasm’s particular blend of heavy music is fun and (mostly) furious. This is a concept album—precisely about what, I don’t know. From what I can gather it’s something to do with aliens bringing knowledge to the human race, which is the perfect kind of insane. Heval Bozarslan’s heavily accented tones give a satisfying bite both to his blackened snarls and guttural growls. I still find myself spontaneously whisper-roaring “VIISSITOOORRRRS” (“Ancient Visitors”) to myself as I go about my day. Axe-wielders Anders Ericsson, Peter Laitinen, and Jonas Söder stack In Flames-esque melodeath riffs like so many skeletal bodies; pour out Paradise Lost-ian mournful refrains like an ominous green smog; and shatter the bare earth with Dissectiony sonic-wave tremolos. In fact, all of those things happen successively on “The Powers of Suffering that Be,” which is quite the wild ride. And what would all this tomfoolery be without a solid percussive backbone? Alvaro Svanerö, fortunately, delivers, galloping, blastbeating, and stomping around the kit.

The variation in styles across Stellar Stream Obscured is key to its success. The way tremolo picking is used to build otherwise death metal riffs injects a frantic energy (“Let Us Descend”) and ludicrously infectious bounce (“The Spinning Tomb”). Conversely, the death doom that rears its head like a creature from the netherworld (“Ancient Visitors,”) or sulks melancholically (“The Powers of Suffering that Be,” “Apocalyptic Serenity”) adds depth, and an appropriate amount of slime. Sarcasm also scatter neoclassical licks and solos all about the place, ramping up the hyperactivity (“Through the Crystal Portal”), or creating a surprising lushness (“Obsidian Eyes”). There’s even a bit of piano (“Obsidian Eyes,” “Apocalyptic Serenity”), which in the latter instance, leads into a frankly gorgeous doomy refrain. “The Spinning Tomb” starts with an air raid siren. Why? Don’t know. But that’s the kind of madness that’s entirely tolerable, and fun.

There’s a fine line, however, between being dynamic and varied, and being a bit too unstable. The transition from frenetic “We Only Saw the Shadows of Life” to funereal “Ancient Visitors” is a tad jarring, slamming the brakes on the furious pace. I would be able to forgive this if it weren’t for the weird spoken word about two-thirds of the way through the latter track. This style regrettably resurfaces in the orchestrally-accompanied opening to “Let Us Descend,” an otherwise gnarly piece of blackened death tarnished by an odd intro that also features less-than-clean clean singing. Ironically in the face of all this variation, some riffs sound suspiciously similar. Is the refrain in “Let Us Descend” a budget version of that in “The Spinning Tomb,” or have the aliens messed with my mind?

Nonetheless, the majority of Stellar Stream Obscured manages to be irresistible in its rabid creativity. Middle tracks like “The Spinning Tomb,” and “The Powers of Suffering that Be” exemplify this best, showing how Sarcasm has built on the leaps and bounds of prior record Esoteric Tales of the Unserene, though producing a less consistent package overall. A pinch too much zeal is far better than not enough, in my opinion, and it makes the 40-odd minutes pass by in a crazed flash. With sarcasm, I’d say the album is boring. With sincerity, I say it’s the complete opposite. My appreciation for Stellar Stream Obscured, and for Sarcasm are wholly unironic.

Rating: Very Good
DR: 10 | Format Reviews: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hammerheart Records
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: January 28th, 2022

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