StarGazer – Psychic Secretions Review

StarGazer are an odd duck in today’s metal scene. Emerging from the primordial deserts1 of Australia in the late 90s with a buzzing, energetic take on death metal, they have bubbled beneath the surface of metal’s mainstream, honing their craft and deliberately stepping away from the old school and further towards something unique with each release. They haven’t had that single killer entry into their discography which would catapult them into the faster current of metal fandom but they are consistently one of the most interesting bands in the subgenre, pushing the envelope for acts which fuse heavy riffs with thoughtful arrangements. Following a four-year gap since album four, their fifth full-length is titled Psychic Secretions, seemingly fitting the mystical theme typically adopted in their previous lyrics and titles. Does the music follow?

Described as black metal by a hopelessly wrong member of the crew 2, true gentlemen and scholars recognize StarGazer as experimental, atmospheric, cosmic blackened death metal3. Psychic Secretions reflects this, representing death metal which is not quite progressive but certainly more experimental than most. Its leads are darting and technical, with twisting tempos and time signatures ensuring things remain unpredictable. StarGazer could be compared with Usurpress, though they’re darker and not as melodic. The band eschews straight-forward grooves in favor of textures and variety. The knotty song-writing synthesizes rhythmic complexity in the sharp drumming and gloriously expressive bass guitar with guitar leads that range from classic, to raw, to shredding. “The Occidental Scourge” demonstrates the strongest streaks of black metal in its tremolo-picked leads, though touches of this are notable throughout the remainder of the record. This track also exhibits the deliberate but frenzied guitar solos which add another element to the mix; they fit the angular, dynamic approach here.

If the previous paragraph indicates the musical tools used, what they build is more impressive still. Psychic Secretions excels in thoughtful and detailed compositions. It’s clearly a work of great care and deliberation. The riffs act as a central anchor for the songs to develop, building a core motif before embellishing this with the technical instrumentation and textured arrangements. “Lash of the Tytans” has a rhythmic lead which pushes the song onwards but which is also flexible enough to accommodate the purring bass, shredding top layer and powerful transitions. I’ll linger on these transitions; they’re habitually excellent and effectively bridge passages such that change is striking but not jarring. “All Knowing Cold” opens with a slower passage and lilting drums, before layering with a noodling, hooky lead. The dramatic use of pauses and slowed tempos bridges this extended (and dynamic) introduction with the verse proper. “Star Vassal” and “Pilgrimage” are the most dynamic tracks, each progressing through soft and heavy passages with great atmosphere, transitions, cosmic synths and sonorous clean singing. The many textures and flavors of StarGazer are still sincerely impressive.

And yet. And yet. I admire the record with its interesting compositions and twisting riffs. But it’s still an admiration and not a love affair. It’s knotty, intricate and thoughtful but lacks that visceral edge that gives death metal life. I hear it but I don’t feel it. Psychic Secretions is as far removed tonally and thematically as death metal can be from the old school given its precision and deft touch, but this means I don’t feel the fist-pumping power and head-banging grooves that stand the sub-genre apart from its competition. Even more than this, it lacks the incisive and urgent quality of a deep hook, or soaring melody, or stickiness that most of the best records possess. It’s an album which takes time to digest and even once I had, I’m not pulled towards it as strongly as I am by my favorites.

Psychic Secretions finds StarGazer tapping more liberally than ever into their exploratory current; it’s recognizably the same band but far flung from their rawer, denser early recordings. And it’s well worth the time of any connoisseur of death or experimental metal. But I still feel inhibited in my response; I want to love StarGazer but I still only like them. In that respect Psychic Secretions is business as usual but the business here is more diverse and detailed than ever.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nuclear War Now! Productions
Releases worldwide: February 1st, 2020

Show 3 footnotes

  1. Or, if you prefer, Adelaide
  2. I won’t embarrass him but it rhymes with TheWrenCurd
  3. If you can’t use 5 adjectives in front of the ‘metal,’ what’s the fucking point?
« »