SARCASM – Stellar Stream Obscured (2022)REVIEW

A concept album divided into two chapters which conclusively intersect despite divergent starting points Uppsala, Sweden-borne melodic death metal quintet Sarcasm‘s fourth full-length album ‘Stellar Stream Obscured‘ offers two perspectives from the edge of human annihilation, an science-fictive apocalyptic event crafted with a revelatory vinyl experience in mind. Side A‘s first chapter Terra Incognita details a world leader’s encounter with overseers at world’s end and the not-so obviously intertwined Terra Vis shifts to a different protagonist on Side B, ultimately finding satisfying answer to queries introduced prior. The lore crafted by vocalist/lyricist and sole original founder Heval Bozarslan (Third Storm, Gold Spire) is as thoughtful and elaborately conveyed as his performances, detailing imaginative revelations several decades into our apocalyptic endtyme whilst further signaling that this legendary project will not only live on but that they are prepared to thrive within their high-functioning, stargazing state conjured well into the future.

Formed in 1987 and hardly receiving due credit ’til reforming in 2015 or so, Sarcasm feature some compelling history from several angles, not the least of which is as a unique outlier from the early 90’s Swedish melodic death metal spheres and perhaps one of just one or two serious bands to play that classic style based out of Uppsala rather than migrating to Gothenburg. That original era of the band featured guitarist Fredrik Wallenberg who’d go on to create considerable pillar with Skitsystem (also The Lurking Fear more recently) and I’m sure I could go on here with various music store nerd trivia or you could reference my extensive review of ‘Esoteric Tales of the Unserene‘ back in 2019 for some extra context. For our purposes today the key implication is that Sarcasm haven’t lost their sight for classic pre-major label Swedish melodic death metal’s stylistic integrity whereas most of their suggested peers (Excretion, Eucharist, Gates of Ishtar, Dawn, et al.) had either folded or moved onto something more commercial or diluted in the decades since. That doesn’t mean ‘Stellar Stream Obscured‘ wallows in any too-direct nostalgia for their work leading up to the long delayed release of ‘Burial Dimensions‘ between 1994 and 2016 but that each release since has differentiated from the last for the sake of learning from and expanding upon each feat in grand stride.

Recorded in early 2021, self-produced by the band and mastered by Christian Wallgren, who’d also mastered ‘Esoteric Tales of the Unserene‘, the high standards set by Sarcasm‘s previous two records are upheld herein albeit with some additionally expanded presence thanks to emphasis on a handful of slow-to-mid paced pieces which often feature use of keyboards and chorale. This might appear to be something a bit new for the group’s sound if you’re not familiar with their 90’s demo days but pieces like “Ancient Visitors” and “Let Us Descend” on ‘Stellar Stream Obscured‘ recall the dark romanticism of demo-era Eucharist and A Canorous Quartet but from the always divergent perspective of Sarcasm, whom rarely emphasized the gothic and/or neoclassical traits found in many groups loosely studying the successes of the early Peaceville associated groups of the time. The experience is rooted in the old ways but these fellowes aren’t stuck in the past admiring old, dead glories.

Beyond 2015 this spiriting of old school melodic death precepts largely comes from the hand of chief songwriter/guitarist Peter Laitinen of the somewhat underrated Imperial Domain (see: ‘In the Ashes of the Fallen‘) whom has molded the original spirit of this band unto an impressive future sight in the span of three gorgeously detailed full-lengths. His work is, again, devoutly ‘old school’ melodic death metal in some organic sound design choices and the tonal spirit of the music but these works have since crossed deeper into the melodic black/death metal spectrum to the point of what I’d consider inarguable mastery, starting with the more involved pieces on ‘Within the Sphere of Ethereal Minds‘ (2017) . The major defining moment in the major reprisal of Sarcasm was arguably ‘Esoteric Tales of the Unserene‘, an album that’d been high-featured on my Best of 2019 list. Instead of simply iterating on those intensely detailed high-rate melodic inventions, which would have ruled too, ‘Stellar Stream Obscured‘ shows the artists range by way of breathing room, expanding the palette the previous two records had established in an effort to better illustrate this specific conceptual vision in mind.

Opener “Through the Crystal Portal” immediately bludgeons in with quick fanfare and proceeds to begin shredding away at their impatiently scaling riffcraft, following the intensely detailed roadmap of hyper-active and ornate compositions that’d had me fawning over their previous album for a year straight. The way I’ve always likened this style to close friends in recommendation as essentially the ‘should’ve been’ No Fashion Records style band that’d never run out of ideas, less an analogue of melodic black metal’s early post-death metal development and more a continuation of inherently melodic pieces that never forget the purposeful attack of death metal’s auld high-evolved standard. A rare and meaningful thrill for folks who’ve developed a taste for the emotional/technical intermingling refinement of proper melodic death. I’ve long seen Sarcasm as a bastion of Swedish melodic death unwilling to devolve into popular rock music and this should explain itself just a couple of pieces into this fine album wherein the bounding hooks and suffocating urgency of “We Only Saw the Shadows of Life” inspires with bold-stroked movements.

As earlier suggested “Ancient Visitors” features an enormous, lurking presence a shade apart from the ruthlessness ‘Esoteric Tales of the Unserene‘ presented, emphasizing its ingress with funereal keyboards and melodic death/doom adjacent crawling pace to start, directed by inspired melodic leads and Bozarslan‘s deeper-growled presence. What’d come to manifest in my earliest notes was an proposed expansion into death/doom attunement but, more importantly it’d take a few much closer listens to see that this was for the sake of the scene depicted in the lyrical progression, and that these events are purposefully setting scene throughout the experience. As we speed towards the second half of the full listen I’ve the sense that Sarcasm are less concerned with proving themselves to anyone and moreso interested in the possibilities available; Reinforcing the notion that there is some serious love for this elite style of death metal shared by these folks is this choice to be a leading force as one of few taking this level of songcraft serious rather than hobbyist curio. As a longtime fan it has been a skeleton-deep body high to experience time and time again this level of work, a physically energizing force soaking me with the darkest angled rays of inspiration, and this from a band whom could’ve very well called their prior work a peak and chilled out satisfied.

Side B features the conglomerated forces introduced on Side A melding various stylistic forms into increasingly technical display alongside a few more direct storytelling moments, such as the easier interpreted lyrics on “Obsidian Eyes” which set up an important formula as the catalyst for this second story. Instead of hitting us with the lesser pieces of a songwriting session as we’d expect from the average extreme metal chunk Sarcasm generate a different mood and begin to lead into pieces which appear in intentional generation of the grand finale, presenting even more patient pace; “The Powers of Suffering That Be” features as one of the more elaborately constructed pieces on the album and the final two songs leaning towards amplified ‘epic’-scaled melodic statement. “Apocalyptic Serenade” uses a piano as a leading voice for its introduction to great effect, supplying a memorable bookending melody which finds some logical relation in the grand finale of “Let Us Descend”. This final song is something new for Sarcasm as far as I can recollect, a two piece song that leads with a two minute introduction girded by orchestral movement which is almost Midnight Odyssey-esque in its theatric quality and layered vocal work. At the very least the listener will recognize this moment as the grand finale, or point of transcendence, wherein everything finally comes together in refrain before the second half of “Let Us Descend” plows into a big shredding n’ spiraling show of aggression. This then begins to lead directly back into the greater cycle of the full listen, firing off a few riffs which lightly presage the attack of “Through the Crystal Portal”.

Finer details aside, ‘Stellar Stream Obscured‘ creates an immediately engaging mood from the start and doesn’t allow one bit of its larger thread to fray throughout its neatly set ~40 minute run; Though these folks are once again overwhelming the senses with rapid fire classist-twisted ideas and charismatic presence, as existing Sarcasm fandom would expect, this time they’ve allowed just enough breathing room on a few slower-paced ventures to present a journey with narrative intent, in this case seeing the final defenestration of humanity at world’s end through the eyes of governance. The experience is inherently tragedian in scope and construct, as the intense revelry in the dark melodicism which Sarcasm continue to be notable for is not lost. Because of this there is no compromise made here — Only expansion unto a more organic and pace-aware experience which makes for an comfortable yet differently stated companion to their two previous works and greater lineage alike. For my own taste this is a considerable piece of melodic death metal music from a band who’ve proven long-standing legs in my own collection with prior releases; This does admittedly create some bias, or, fandom wherein I quickly recognized the level of artistry available and have gleefully embraced such fine work. Nonetheless, this does not create blinders to quality craft and this is some of Sarcasm‘s best. Highest possible recommendation.

Highest recommendation. (100/100)

Rating: 10 out of 10.
TITLE:Stellar Stream Obscured
LABEL(S):Hammerheart Records
RELEASE DATE:January 28th, 2022

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