STARGAZER – Psychic Secretions (2021)REVIEW

Om! The cosmic pillar and its Asuric architectural lines flowing, shimmering too brightly to comprehend within Maya’s illusory hall. We stare through light’s blindness towards a surreal reality, envisioning Ṛta yet unleashing destruction and anguish upon the feigned-yet-believed ‘self’; This divine palace only reflects the insistence of the absurdity of all men, the false mirror an sustained ego provides. This prideful, upturned species cannot be understood as an illness but a necessary student in transcendental lesson, greater potential awaiting us with in the deepest reaches of the Mahābhārata and its many allusions to those entrenched in proudest bouts of vengeance and the resultant perpetual illness. This epic meant to detail the lessons learned between warring familial factions throughout the 8th and 9th centuries BCE repeatedly posits whether or not the suffering caused by war can ever be justified while concurrently suggesting the “fires of vengeance” cannot be snuffed, an eternal wheel of damnation spins beyond of the control of man’s arrogance. The natural response to wrongdoing, such as a young Kuru king’s attempted ritual sacrificial genocide of all serpents in the Sarpa Satra portion of the text, is natural and conditioned as an “inner salivation” a chemically charged instinctual reaction for the sake of justice yet, it is the oversized ego that would dictate such obliteration. Fate carries a finite supply of sages wisened enough to pull feverish young rulers away from the decimation of mankind’s civilization(s), our instinct is to thirst for blood and war under a burning wheel and with each cycle there is less mindfulness to spread the lie of peace among the most incendiary among us. We sit in front of sacred fire for the first destructive yajna of 2021, wherein we surrender this mantra not for the sake of śreyortha but against it, offering meditation upon ‘Psychic Secretions‘ a fourth devotional from South Australian avant-garde/progressive black/death metal trio Stargazer, wherein the thirst for man’s egoistic destruction is met with the venomous foaming saliva of ten-thousand serpents, setting aflame the blindfold upon the mind in lotus’d readiness for what cataclysm we face next.

Over the course of two and a half decades Stargazer has been its own remarkably woven thread of violently thrashing technical death metal, blackened and steeping in a satisfyingly bitter-poisoned tea of most classic progressive extreme metal. They’d found their footing beyond the short-lived (and later duly reprised) Intellect Devourer (see: ‘Demons of the Skull‘, 2020) advancing as primal and scouring wrath beyond where their first demo (‘Gloat‘, 1996) suggested a style closer to their prior fixation and a 7″ (‘Borne‘, 1997) recorded a year earlier represented what was essentially the ‘breakthrough’ moment that would more-or-less be the path forward with a few of these songs eventually making their way to later full-lengths. I’ll avoid recycling my thoughts on their early discography, most of which I’d detailed to some degree in an earlier review of their demo compilation from last year, while suggesting that Stargazer essentially formed and evolved as a pillar alongside its members’ other equally considerable projects with the best known being the prior existent Mournful Congregation. In the span of just a few years they’d join a member of Intellect Devourer to spearhead Cauldron Black Ram (see: ‘Slaver‘, 2020) and the fellow from Sacriphyx to form the underrated Misery’s Omen (see: ‘Hope Dies‘, 2008) and well, for the sake of not endlessly namedropping side-projects I’ll suggest that last year found many past-and-present realities met with a burst of activity including newer projects such as their traditional heavy/power metal project Road Warrior and an equally notable feature on VoidCeremony‘s debut album. Five vital releases in a single year, and I believe ‘Psychic Secretions’ was initially planned for late 2020, should suggest that a short break beyond ‘The Incubus of Karma’ found inspiration pouring profusely from the two main musicians behind all of these acts. So, this detour has purpose: Could we expect Stargazer to have been diluted, caught in a storm of maniac activity after a nigh seven year wait between releases?

Nah, despite the abundance of ideas pressing through the doorway in recent years the creative force of this project (and all associated) works with an ethos largely outside of the pressure of time. Keep in mind it took ten years for Stargazer‘s indisputable classic debut (‘The Scream the Tore the Sky‘, 2005) to finally materialize after several smaller releases. As I’ve stated to some degree prior, this album was the event horizon that tore me away from cynicism about “modern” music, it was the inspiration and epiphany that had me once again engaging with music created post-1995 in general, halting a fixation upon death/thrash obscurities and opening the mind to more blackened, technical, doomed and progressive futurism of future generations. This along with the five year wait for their equally mind-blowing ‘A Great Work of Ages‘ (2010) represents one of the most important influences upon the standards I approach heavy music with. Anecdotally, Stargazer‘s second album arrived during a period of my life with long commutes, long hours of study as I returned to college, and long trips abroad as I explored southeast Asia. So, listening to their music is a bit like staring at a worn tattoo and recalling a period of great life-changing experiences. It also reminds me how sour I’ve long been for missing out on vinyl editions of those first two records, releases that -nobody- will seemingly part with on Discogs or otherwise. I mention all of this to present my own massive personal bias, this is perhaps my favorite band if I had to somehow reduce my whole-hearted love for extreme music down to one artist. And this point of taste does not arrive out of the blue as a love for Sadus, Atheist, Gorguts and Absu (among others) allows for Stargazer to appreciate even more in stylistic, virtuosic, and mystic occult value.

If we are to reference the past in addressing the present Mark IV ‘self’ that Stargazer expresses ‘A Merging to the Boundless‘ (2014) is perhaps the most important place to start, noting that it’d been an anomaly in the sense that (then) drummer Selenium had been a particularly technical powerhouse to match the absolutely shocking waves of ‘old school’ progressive black/death metal movements therein, developing wildly in statement between their second and third albums. Using secondary pieces, we can trace this path from “Tryaal by Obsidian” (Split w/Sacriphyx) circa 2008 to “The Molecular Scythe” (Split with Ysengrin) in 2015 and we see the brilliant growth of that particular line-up that began to lean towards an economy of rhythmic notions at a higher technical standard, bigger movements and increasingly dark esotericism. This brings us to a point of certainty beyond, where Stargazer‘s practical reignition circa 2019 would now feature Khronomancer (Sarsekim, Tsun Tzu) whom you’ll likely know best as the drummer for new-defunct Altars (see: ‘Paramnesia‘, 2013) and this freshly seated dynamic he brings means ‘Psychic Secretions’ is yet the jet-black infinity pool we’ve come to know and love but, perhaps even more economically stated, relying less on an abundance of notes and more on broadening dark meditative statements. This is not precisely what I’d expected when learning of the new line-up in late December of 2019, maybe foreseeing amped brutality and dissonance considering the drummer’s brutal skills, but instead we’re gifted an experience that is far more sophisticated and well, I’d say spiritually expressive than imagined. Is it their ‘Elements’, though?

The patiently spiraled surfacing of “Simulacrum” repeats itself twice, an ending and a beginning for those of us who’d spin our records on repeat for days at a time. It isn’t the first time Stargazer have eased us into their realm but it arrives without the anxiety of a whip-start, the fretless sling of The Great Righteous Destroyer instead greets us with subtle technique and gorgeously realized tone. In fact the thunder of ‘Psychic Secretions’ is a major component of its voice, no less than in the past but even more vitally placed than ever. No doubt that if you’d fawned over the ooze of his performances on ‘Entropic Reflections Continuum: Dimensional Unravel’ last year you’ll find this virtuosic yet (again) increasingly economic phrasing speaks throughout the album and never shies into a corner. “Lash of the Tytans” unleashes this melting blackness as it begins to dart in the arrow-flung wind of The Serpent Inquisitor‘s guitars, we’d expected a grand entrance and the flinging open of the gates is exactly the armageddon our black-waxen altars had pined for the long wait. The piece continues to open, almost taking more from Cynic‘s mind palace than expected in reaching a psychedelic high as it pulls into the creeping torsion of “Evil Olde Sol”, perhaps the piece on the album to remind most of what ‘A Merging to the Boundless’ had achieved while adding increasingly complex meter. At this point we are presented with a choice, to hang on every detail in rapturous witness or to simply rescind and feel deeply these absolutely debilitating grooves, as if poisoned into death-like hallucination. For the first several listens I’d choose to collapse and feel the weight of these complex yet freely flowing compositions, each entirely demanding in their physical realization but effortlessly skybound in ear. I’d found myself considering they’d taken in some perspective in view of the compilation of auld demo tracks, finding some of their broader strokes in simplifying the motion of ‘Psychic Secretions’ and essentially aiming for something more ancient in impact, bloody yet beautiful stabs not far from what Violent Dirge were doing on their second album ‘Craving‘ (1995). You’ll understand why I’ve referenced Atheist‘s third album, Cynic and ‘Craving’ after you’ve spent some time with this record yet ideally some concert with the finer details of the album will reveal a natural progression into idiosyncratic ‘self’ for Stargazer; Take a careful ear to “Star Vassal” (and its incredible monastic atmospheric breaks) and we are yet again seeing the mind explode with possibilities but, slapped by a maturing hand able to do more with (seeming) less.

With dopamine levels too hot to handle as Side A ends, it feels merciless that Side B immediately pushes us into the growling pit of “Hooves”, a serpentine groove emphasized by slippery, hammered-on and pooling bass guitar movements. Trepidation that this might be a much softer version of Stargazer are largely gone, if anything ‘Psychic Secretions’ builds in its venomous intensity as the second half begins to thrall the ear with building intensity, elasticity and here I think I’d first started to grasp Khronomancer‘s style as translated to this band, especially on the ever-twisting movements of “The Occidental Scourge”, perhaps the highlight I’d pick to showcase this band to the uninitiated (well, it was the first single) as it best justifies why their vision/craft is such a sacral feat from my perspective. Without rushing to the end, the second single from the album and closer “Pilgrimage” is something entirely different as The Serpent Inquisitor offers clean vocals on its prog-doom balladeer opening before breaking into a roar. This gels beautifully with the rest of the album yet it is no less surprising a revelation, especially within a casual first listen. That said I’d found myself repeatedly stepping away from the album as if it’d ended when the song hit the ~3:50 minute mark and it took some time to break this habit, for whatever reason the record felt “done” at that moment. Assuredly a personal quirk in response to the great stimulus that ‘Psychic Secretions’ brings and likely a testament to my hanging on every note with great enthusiasm regardless of how many times I’d spun through the full listen.

From a most objective point of view I’d say the “prettier” stylistic lean of ‘Psychic Secretions’ ebbs towards classic underground progressive death metal with some of the abruptness of blackened thrash still feeding the intensity of the experience. Played back-to-back with ‘A Merging to the Boundless’ helps to justify this thought, however subtle the distinction might be. In terms of the listening experience the fluid motion from piece to piece that these leanings suggest is brutally efficient despite the frenzy of detailed instrumental virtuosity in hand. This lends itself very well to repeat listening as there is yet leagues of discovery to glean beyond savoring the Vāmācāra vibe and rhythmic gust of Stargazer‘s signature action. Unique artwork from Zbigniew M. Bielak helps to reinforce this with imaginative detail that blurs and carves itself into several images at once er, especially if you’re as keen as I was to sit entranced by the album in rapt marvel. That’d be the gist of it, actually, that ‘Psychic Secretions’ is befitting of a flawless legacy and that it is both equal in body and godhead in stature to their greater discography. A feat that will be nigh impossible to usurp as album of the year and an album deserving of a highest possible recommendation.

Highest recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:STARGAZER
TITLE:Psychic Secretions
TYPE:LP
LABEL(S):Nuclear War Now! Productions
RELEASE DATE:February 1st, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Avant-Garde Black/Death Metal,
Progressive Black/Death Metal,

Blackened Progressive Death/Thrash

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