Scardust – Strangers Review

I have a strange relationship with progressive metal. On one hand, I feel like the vast majority of prog is made up of decent song ideas separated from one another by fancy time signatures, self-indulgent experimentation, and other forms of needless wankery. But on the other hand, I proudly claim progressive titans Symphony X and Nevermore as my two favorite bands of all time. Those bands had a way of making their immensely complex compositions seem deceptively simple — a hallmark of a good prog band in my book. To me, progressiveness is really just the amplification of — or an embellishment upon — what a band already does well. Thus, my view that much of today’s “prog” music is really just embellished nothingness. On that cheerful note, enter Israeli progressive metal band Scardust. I was roped into listening to their 2017 debut Sands of Time when initial sampling revealed Scardust wearing a strong Symphony X influence on their sleeve — and continued listening showed the band ripping off said sleeve to show Michael Romeo and co. tattooed upon the forearm beneath. The potential for greatness was evident on that strong but somewhat inconsistent release, so I simply had to check out 2020 followup Strangers.

Opener “Overture of the Estranged” transcends the standard throwaway intro track trope by serving as a true overture, giving us a foretaste of themes that will be used on each and every track moving forward. A fantastic standalone number in its own right, it not only displays the band’s artistic vision but expertly sets the stage for the remaining 46 minutes. Embedded single “Tantibus II” demonstrates that Scardust’s Symphony X influence is still strong by leading with an angular guitar intro, a beefy Michael Romeo main riff, and neoclassical keys, but the Elton John grandeur of the chorus also shows the band’s ability to meld seemingly disparate influences into incredibly memorable songs. Take for instance “Concrete Cages,” a sprawling gospel-tinged King’s X funk metal jam that features hurdy-gurdy playing from guest Patty Gurdy. She also contributes vocal duties as she performs a duet with Scardust vocalist Noa Gruman, and the results are spectacular.

As are the rest of Gruman’s vocals on Strangers. She has a high, operatic falsetto that reminds of Simone Simons at times — especially when the band veers into Epica-esque power metal territory — but Noa is more than just another symphonic metal singer. As the band’s sonic centerpiece, she seems equally comfortable growling on “Over”, hard rock snarling on “Tantibus II,” and even pulls off some smooth jazz crooning on “Under.” The latter features more King’s X groove and maintains an upbeat character — until you realize that Gruman’s upbeat performance is delivering some seriously sinister revenge/revolution-themed lyrics. And that’s part of the magic that Scardust achieves on Strangers — they continually combine things that feel as if they should not be combined, yet the results are consistently great.

The modern production on Strangers perfectly captures the many moods of this erratic album. Powerful choral arrangements, beautiful keys, thick guitars, the Seinfeld-theme-slap-bass-sped-up-a-thousand-times virtuosity of Yanai Avnet, and Gruman’s multifaceted vocals each occupy the perfect spot on this recording, and the execution enhances the already fantastic songs. If you had described to me the mishmash that is Strangers before I’d heard it, and then told me that I’d be feeling the way I feel about it now after around fifteen listens, I’d have laughed in your face — from six feet away of course. Don’t take my word for it. Check out “Tantibus II” below or its Orphaned Land-tinged sister single “Addicted” for just a small taste of what Scardust accomplishes on Strangers. But I highly recommend listening to the record as whole. Each and every song has something worthwhile to offer, and each seems to build upon the themes and momentum created by the ones that came before it.

Like I alluded to in the intro, I generally avoid modern prog because I’m afraid that it won’t create that feeling within me that only bands like Symphony X and Nevermore have ever seemed to be able to conjure. But I’ll be damned if there weren’t moments on Strangers where Scardust tricked me into thinking I was experiencing the magical journey of The Odyssey again for the first time. They’ve taken a laundry list of influences, a dragon’s hoard of musical ability, a metric ton of ambition, and combined it all with the most important ingredient: good songwriting. Scardust are making prog great again in 2020.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: M-Theory Audio
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: October 30th, 2020

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