For many people, instrumental music is meant for background listening while you study or read or try to sleep. After all, how engaging can something be without a catchy chorus to sing along to? I often dismiss that argument as pedestrian and ignorant, but in the case of the sonic blitzkrieg of Stellar Death’s brand of instrumental proggy post metal, I’m not sure how anyone could ever imagine it playing in the background in the first place.
On their new EP, Washington DC-based duo Stellar Death offers up three tracks of metal that shifts effortlessly between virtuosic prog metal, crushing djent, and atmospheric post rock, crafting sonic journeys that seek to look beyond the boundaries of perception. The record is inspired by philosophy and astronomy, and even though there are no words to communicate that, I probably would have been able to guess that based on the compositions alone as they shift in genre, rhythm, and dynamics.
In music like this, it’s important to have technical chops, and Stellar Death certainly has that in spades. But virtuosity can only get you so far. Luckily, the duo has a sense of composition that more than buoys their technical skill. While there are plenty of complicated rhythms and fret burning solos that some might dismiss as wankery, it’s not overdone. These moments are balanced by moments of anthemic walls of sound and more ambient passages of quietness. Even the drums—which are programmed, so they have no human limitations—are tastefully done, with only one egregious abuse of double kick pedals (though it’s brief enough to forgive).
What’s more important is that the composition is coherent enough to carry a narrative even without words. Guitar leads sing like a voice, crafting identifiable choruses with hooks that catch despite the lack of lyrics to sing along with. According to the band, Sentient (Chapter 1) is the first in a series of EPs exploring these themes. And if these three tracks are any indication, there’s plenty of ground to explore in their sonic universe.
Sentient (Chapter 1) is out now through Brave Music.