…a consciousness that cannot discern a meaning in existence is in trouble, very deep trouble, for at that point there is no organizing principle, no end to the halting problems, no reason to live, no love to be found. No: meaning is the hard problem.” Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora

There is no chance in Hell that any reasonable representation of humanity will be looking out of some aft window on a shuttle to another habitable world, feeling any sort of remorse. The sort of person who’d been “selected” for recolonization would, in every conceivable scenario, have such a disproportionate fortune (or, bloodied hands) compared to those left behind that to even imagine a perspective that leads with a conscience is more absurd than any far-flung 1970’s space colonization fantasy. That’d be the major pull of most popular science fiction narratives beyond the Eisenhower administration in the United States, though, a different Earth where greed, prejudice, and opportunism were minimized to such a degree that even if our world had failed the human spirit would band us together in triumph to colonize the stars beyond. The last of us left who’d miraculously find themselves able to pilot their way beyond Earth’s atmosphere would inarguably be the most ruthless among us, secretive at the least and perhaps genocidal at the worst. I’ve seen the rich trample the poor, the enfeebled left to die, and the masses stupefied by technology to an extreme degree in my lifetime and I just don’t buy into the collaborative capacity for remorse amongst the self-serving majority of the human race. The “What if…?” is yet no less entertaining than it was when I’d grown up reading oft utopian science fiction of the late 80’s and early 90’s before the tendency towards dystopian forms would translate best to the edgier screenplays of the era. Originally hailing from the very center er, middle of Sweden in Östersund epic heavy metal duo Starscape reach for bold mid-70’s heavy rock, prog and heavy metal spiritus on this their debut full-length the sci-fi recolonization opus, ‘Colony‘. Their perspective is hopeful, remorseful, (eventually) horrified and once again displaced-yet-optimistic as the theme of the album takes an equally 70’s approach to its narrative arc. Though there are some rough edges to their debut’s gem-like form, these fellowes manage an exuberant and notably inspired “head in the clouds” underground epic heavy metal record.

Starscape would officially form as a solo project from musician Anton Eriksson in 2015 and by early 2017 he’d readied an instrumental demo (‘Demo‘, 2017) which today expresses as if a nearly complete vision of ‘Colony’ in pre-production form. The assumption is that this sizeable and well-crafted demo probably drummed up interest for a vocalist and the choice was Per-Olof Göransson who would feature on the ‘Pilgrims‘ EP in 2020. When considering the 2017 demo and 2020 EP and comparing their sound side-by-side it seems the interim time was spent working out vocal patterns; Most of the compositional changes made are easily observed on ‘Colony’ and approached with a light hand, some different counts and fleshed-out leads but still resembling the original draft/demo. For an epic heavy metal/hard rock album developed over the course of roughly five years it is a strong enough debut and certainly presents a clear point of view alongside a reasonable taste level. They’ve managed hints of Swedish throwback rock and metal hybrids such as Hällas and Night which can veer into ‘Return to Fantasy’-era Uriah Heep as often as it might impress a Tanith or Possessed Steel fan for its lofty bouts of 80’s epic heavy metal melodrama. Göransson‘s vocals aren’t as sophisticated or experienced as some of those comparisons might suggest and the trade-off is that Starscape cultivate 80’s Maiden inspired realms more often than they swing into 70’s prog rock keyboard honking blues rock pieces. An over the top heavy metal voice is appropriate here, though there are some strong veers off the map in terms of pitch and a few moments of strained yelling that just don’t work. This off-kilter and loud presence adds character of course, but won’t sooth and impress in the same way a harmonically gifted band in this realm, such as Wytch Hazel, might.

Heavy is the head in view of what curtain opens as “Pilgrims of the Stars” begins, an anthem for the proceedings which reads as both foreshadowing and commands this optimistic spirit despite dire circumstances. The first act is a howling mid-paced sojourn meant to introduce humanity’s emigration from Earth. We can consider this first piece a narrative introduction and a sort of mission statement for the band, presenting their epic heavy metal stride and expressive vocals alongside their knack for dramatic tension and 70’s prog rock/heavy metal influences from a ‘New wave of traditional heavy metal’ perspective. When I first fired this song up I loved this dry atmospheric sound and suggestion of melodrama yet the vocals seemed unsustainable for a full listen that promised to be roughly ~45 minutes. The bassline that introduces “Interstellar” and its jogging The Lord Weird Slough Feg movement had me feeling it again, appreciating that they were going for something that’d stand out and embolden the intricate compositions Eriksson had worked so diligently. This rocking back and forth between annoyance of timbre and ecstasy of forms became a vibe unto itself and though it took some desensitization moments like the strained, cracking yell of “Whoa, yea-yuh” that kicks off the title track were appreciable as appropriate. They were celebrating landing upon what would be their new world as the first act ends and that piece eventually develops into a brilliant fanfare of organ grinding, dual guitar solos and always bopped basslines.

As the discovery and conquer of their new colony commences the narrative somehow calls for a ballad, which just isn’t my style even on a throwback rock record. I suppose it is fitting that the horror of discovering a dangerous alien civilization building horrifying structures which frighten the Pilgrims of Earth is also my favorite song on the album. The harmonized early verses and keyboard work on this song bring back the anthemic quality that Starscape lead with and following up this high point with a four minute adventure metal song gives off a mid-80’s Manilla Road heavy/speed metal vibe momentarily which I’d appreciated. This is the core of the album’s interest for my own taste as the 10+ minute closer “Towards the Unknown” sets humanity off elsewhere. This is an interesting choice because it subverts what has long been the nature of mankind and science fiction, conflict is generally the source of conquer and glory among men and to glorify thy enemy is major source material for sci-fi generations yet the Pilgrims are forced to flee because of a darkness which spreads across the colony. They’re bummed but they choose to leave without conflict. It isn’t the most heroic choice though it does open up further narratives as they attempt to find a new home if this theme persists. As a science fiction themed heavy metal record the assumption is that this arc will find its parable and shake it in the face of the listener before things end yet ‘Colony’ reads a bit inconsequential. This isn’t such an issue beyond recapping the story as the dual lead heavy piece creates its own anthemic curtain call. A space opera that ends with “…a tale that is to be told another time.” is perhaps even more glassy-eyed and ‘retro’ in spirit than I’d expected, theatrical rock music at the very least.

The absolute best traditional heavy metal always has a bit of a broken wing, a wonky eye, or a strange vocalist whom offers just enough personality to help their songcraft stick. Though this first album from Starscape isn’t perfection by any means they’ve got all of their raw potential expressing in the right places; Complaints won’t hold much water when this somewhat rough but personal debut is eclipsed on future releases as they iterate and/or innovate. As is, ‘Colony’ is a fine showing of 80’s heavy metal bravado and the theatrical high-flying structures of 70’s heavy rock and none of it would be anything special without the exuberant performances that admirably belt these numbers out. The narrative could use a clearer angle, science fiction can be entirely about the human condition under duress but it must generate some sense of wonder. I cringed, I coped, and I ultimately enjoyed ‘Colony’ for its persistent vision nonetheless. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (70/100)

Rating: 7 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Stormspell Records
RELEASE DATE:March 1st, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Heavy Metal/Progressive Rock,
Epic Heavy Metal

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