I've been an obsessed hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector since the early 1980s. If it's got a good guitar riff and attitude, I'm in.
Genre: Traditional/retro heavy metal
Release: Stormspell Records, 2021
7 tracks, run time: 43:36
Prepare for re-entry! From the edges of our galaxy, the tiny-but true metal specialists at Stormspell Records bring us their latest discovery—Sweden's Starscape, a pair of science-fiction obsessed dudes in a retro metal mood. This duo consists of multi-instrumentalist Anton Eriksson and vocalist Per-Olof Göransson and they've been in existence since 2015. Starscape has a prior demo release and an EP under their belts, but Colony is their first full-length album. I was immediately intrigued by their sci-fi vibe and the cool, t-shirt worthy cover art on Colony, which looks like something you would have seen on the side of an '80s video arcade game cabinet back in the day.
Colony is also a concept album which tells the tragic tale of the last survivors of a ruined planet, boarding a space ship and heading into the void to seek their fortunes elsewhere in the universe. Sounds like good ol' fashioned pulpy science-fiction Saturday matinee fun to me. What do you say, kids? Let's strap in, prepare for hyperspace, and follow along with these brave pilgrims on their interstellar journey...
Starscape occupies an odd place somewhere at the crossroads of NWOBHM worship (think early Iron Maiden and Angel Witch), and '70s space-rock ala Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind. The influence of '80s "epic" metal bands like Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road are definitely part of Starscape's DNA too, as well as stoner-metal practitioners like The Sword and Monster Magnet.
The nearly eight-minute opener "Pilgrims of the Stars" starts the album off in suitably epic fashion, with lots of lumbering bass and sinister keyboard accents. It's nearly two minutes into the song before we finally hear our first lyrics, and Per-Olof Göransson's vocal work quickly fell into the "acquired taste" category for me. By the second track, "Interstellar," his stiff, robotic, heavily accented style of talk-singing was becoming a distraction. Fortunately, Eriksson's fine instrumental work was enough to keep my interest in spite of the peculiar vocal choices. (I'm always impressed by guys who can not only play more than one instrument, but play them well to boot!)
On the title track, which has a nice galloping speed-metal feel to it, our group of intrepid space explorers have found a new planet that they believe will be suitable for their needs, and on the epic semi-ballad "A New World" they begin re-shaping it to fit their purposes... but of course, any veteran sci-fi fan will tell you this contentment isn't likely to last very long. Things take a dark turn on the chunky "Not Built By Human Hands," in which our explorers discover abandoned ruins that suggest they are not the first life forms to set foot on this seemingly-perfect planet. The four-minute instrumental "Structures" is straight-up Iron Maiden worship in the vein of "Transylvania," which leads into the album's grand finale, the ten-minute-plus "Towards the Unknown." At this point our protagonists have begun to fall victim to an alien disease, forcing the survivors to re-board their ship, abandon their new home, and return to the stars. By the end of the track, we leave our pilgrims as they return to hyper-sleep, hoping to find a new home elsewhere in the universe. You can just imagine a big TO BE CONTINUED flashing across the screen... and I assume that listeners will pick up the saga on the next Starscape album, whenever that may be.
Summing it Up
It took a few listens for Colony to truly "click" with me (due mostly to the unusual vocals), but after that I found myself actually becoming involved with the album's storyline and grooving on the spacey heaviness of it all. Musically, Starscape has got all their ducks in a row, and Colony is full of tasty bits that had me raising the horns quite frequently. If Göransson could tweak his vocal style just a smidge and lose that stilted delivery that sounds like he's reading the lyrics off of cue cards, then Starscape could be a band to watch.
For now, Colony is a pretty cool rookie card release from a band who clearly wants to be the next big thing in sci-fi metal. Their laboratory may not quite be fully equipped yet, but they're getting there.
For more info on Starscape, check out their official Facebook page, and Colony CDs can be ordered via Stormspell Records' Bandcamp site. Collectors take note, Colony is a limited pressing of only 500 copies, so if you want to own this dose of cosmic-infused metal mayhem, you need to act fast!
© 2021 Keith Abt