LABYRINTH OF STARS – Spectrum Xenomorph (2022)REVIEW

A well-lit extraterrestrial horror, scourging indeterminate prey. — Within the brief, glitched volley of their debut full-length German death metal duo Labyrinth of Stars more-or-less nail the face value sensation of a peaking cosmic horror arc, polishing up an idea that’d probably just been a bit of fun to start into a too-deep space voyage which illustrates paranoiac star-sickness and predatorial haunt out at cosmic sea reaching its violent end. They’ve presented ‘Spectrum Xenomorph‘ in a way which nearly begins to parody the tenets of death metal as they’d begin to age out of fashion two decades ago, celebrating the camp of a certain era of brutally engorged violence within their own spherically evolved interpretation. The result is less an expected abstraction of exaggerated classicist forms than it is an appreciably lustrous, adept navigation of them which reveals rather than hides the blunt and bare impact of past-prime death metal in an attempt to lend euphonic (and atmospheric) possibilities where none were intended to exist.

Labyrinth of Stars is a 2019 founded side-project from Markus Siegenhort who is best known for his work in Lantlôs, Christian Kolf of Valborg, and vocalist/lyricist Dirk Stark wherein their ideas apparently manifested out of boredom, a cubical fortress, and a need explore kosmiche death metal with elaborate sci-fi/horror themes. Whereas groups like Mithras initially took the late 90’s downtuned dredge and weirding, psychedelic leads of future-sighted Morbid Angel to points of atmospheric excess and brutality the major goal of these sharp-eared hi-fi minimalists appears to be truncation of the physical act of death metal performance, economizing eruptive guitar techniques down to stuttered spasms in place of tremolo’d riff abuse and chorus-hexed clean toned wandering in place of shredding leads. If you were to pick up the most recent record from Lantern or any aforementioned groups in direct comparison a face value read is nearly as effective but the modus is notably different, approachable and direct in statement.

Opener “Star Pervertor” could be read as reduced, or, simplified refinement in this way without any loss of brutally achieved tempo and drum performance (or, arrangement if these are programmed). The millennium encroached death-toned effect is eased of most all pernicious detail for the sake of thoughtful yet eruptive shapes revealed, a minimal approximation to the dedicated death metal attuned but the same end under different means to the average ear. As an opener this is a properly rousing moment, a strong introductory surge of energy wherein the piece largely functions in riling the listener before servicing the not-so subtle groove it gains beyond the opening bluster of it all, allowing for Stark‘s trailing echo shocked vocals (see also: Rayner Cross) to make a surreal and thrilling enough introduction. If you’d sought this record out looking for something more than a couple nods to obvious influence the opener at least suggests there’ll be more to it as we jump in.

“Aethereal Solitude” develops the idea, pushing the cataclysmic vibe a bit further with a different sort of sci-fi atmospheric touch around the fringes of another bruising act. Of course this piece quickly changes the conversation so that we can allow the elite death metal fan to brace into traction. The nauseation of sludge-heavy death metal pulsing in irregular spasticity might initially lack in terms of mind-boggling intricacy, a wordy way to suggest that these are not riffs from lifelong students of the Ancient ones, at least not the Florida-scented types. When approached by the riff-obsessed guitarist in expectation of more than novel grooves, these guitar progressions will appear primarily in service of atmospheric character. The song itself cannot help but succeed in its invocation of deathlike bluster, side-stepping the note-for-note traditionalist practicum in an entertaining way.

The brief and tautly springing hammer of “Ancient Machines in Authority” takes us to a mid-90’s Meshuggah-adjacent space to some slight degree, resembling the industrialized grooves of the era beside its easy-flowing ‘Heretic‘ scrub and for my taste this is where the substance of these songs reveals more clearly as vignettes, ideas which are succinct and occasionally lack in complete development. It feels like half of a great song fires off and quickly fades into an interlude. The experiment then becomes less about matching the natural evolution of sludged-up death metal in approach of the millennium and more about holding together a cool vibe for as long as they can with a bit of duct tape and some solid guitar work. “Vacuum” reprises the initial thread as potently as the two opening pieces, bringing a bit more density to the now wandering mind of the full listen but ‘Spectrum Xenomorph’ has already begun to pull away, almost uncomfortable with repeating motif and ideas, now resorting to a nonetheless effective guitar hook to drift away from the song as it blasts out with some brilliantly cinematic grace. Without disparaging “Dissolving Into the Eternal Nothingness”, this is both the peak of the action for my taste and a little bit disappointing return on the initial idea invested in.

It’ll be up to the listener to decide if you’ve gotten an effective impressionistic death metal treatment from the experience, a vague impersonation, or, a reduction down to plainest forms. Most deeply attuned and obsessive death metal fans will not be entirely pleased by default unless they can come to terms with a light and approachable set of conditions for fiery death metal magic as this record will not suit those with staunch preconceived ideas. I’d say the only justifiable reason to detract here is that ‘Spectrum Xenomorph‘ is roughly ~33 minutes long and just over one third of the experience is a dark ambient piece, albeit a great one which hypnotizes well enough, but a low calorie run overall. This ratio is fantastically moderne, probably a deeper noir experience than another ten minutes of riffs might’ve been all things considered, but it does end up making for a light mLP sized listen with a long meditative gap when left on loop. This gap became more pronounced with successive listens, taking on a life of its own within its coldest reaches as it pulled me away from the action repeatedly.

It works out well enough that an album meant to convey disorientation, cosmic wreckage, and the revelation of unthinkable horrors would leave the mind in the dark for a good portion of its runtime yet for the more time-tested fandom out there Side B of ‘Spectrum Xenomorph‘ will probably read as a mouth-slapping chunk of filler instead. I’d come to enjoy the space in between, wanting a bit more out of the record overall but appreciating the ease of the experience taken as is. With any piece missing it certainly wouldn’t have made such a memorable impression and the overall adventure yet sinks in mind as an experiment worthy of iteration, and hopefully even more demanding expansion of both ‘dark space’ ambient and destructive death metal climes. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Spectrum Xenomorph
LABEL(S):Translation Loss Records
RELEASE DATE:September 30th, 2022

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