Progressive Metal is an European affair. Right? This is what the Europeans think at least. And this annoys many American bands to hell and back. But the EU prog nerds have a point. There’s just no real cool prog that emanates from across the pond anymore. The only thing we seem to get these days is preposterous news about how their government behaves itself. Okay, you will find exceptions like the excellent Moon Haven that RMR just recently reviewed. But then, these guys are arguably more on alt-metal territory than anywhere else.
Now think about some Progressive Metal that somehow lost its compass completely and saw the light of day in Isreal. Yep, you heard that right. Coming from the Levant, not a region that we usually associate with Progressive Metal. Looks like some of that metal spirit spilled over from Cyprus and bred some pretty good tunes over there.
So, here comes Scardust with their newest and début full length album Sands of Time. And boy, this is a complex tune. When the strings started sawing away at the very start of something ominously called Sands of Time: Overtures I was kind of fearful of where this was going to go. We found ourselves in the doldrums of operatic bullshit in the past and it did not go well. But then Scardust kicks it up a couple of notches and takes off at a level of complexity far beyond Clock Unwound from Gentle Knife. And it definitely is a refreshing turn away from the masters of djentology of the likes of Leprous and their latest offering Malina.
By contrast, this band uses complexity as stepping-stones to fame. And they don’t lose themselves in endless loops to nowhere. It is really their strange mix of Progressive and Symphonic Metal with a scoop or two of Power Metal that made me pay attention. This feels like the essence of Wilderun got mixed with the refinement of Stream of Passion, the freshness of Arven and played on stage with Epica. And funny enough, Scardust opened up for the latter. Fits, doesn’t it?
Then it is time to meet Noa Gruman. The multifaceted flexi-voice who came a long way from interpreting Queen and The Beatles through her family operation Kol haMishpaha to find Progressive Metal as her safe haven. And – behold – didn’t I find the family members lurking in the Scardust choir and elsewhere. A Kelly Family of sorts from Israel, I’ll be damned. But back to the Sands of Time: Noa does it all. Lead vocals with a cute lisp, the occasional growl and extracting the right sounds from the choir. Plus she wrote the songs and lyrics together with Orr Didi, who currently does not play with the band.
Now, this somewhat unusual mix of prog and symphonics is not something that I often heard lately. They embed the strings, harpsichords, flutes and other operatic elements into their tune with a delicate artistry seldom seen to date. On top Scardust master the choir work in a way Epica never could. Of course, all this masterful geekery does not only see the light of day by the sheer talent of the musicians involved. But also by the mixing and mastering job that rarely loses a step.
Of course, once you hire Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios for the mastering job things will usually look pretty solid. They also contracted known voices like Jake E from Amaranthe to help out with some stuff. Luckily for us, Scardust‘s style is nowhere near the latter’s pop antics. Yet with all that good stuff going for them, Scardust managed to overdo it somewhat in ardent technicality towards the second half of the album. Whilst this cost them a point on the rating, it is small potatoes compared to the overall outstanding quality of the rest.
So, what are the highlights? The album starts strongly, yet really shows its best by mid-point. Sands of Time – the title track – definitely shines. This is followed with the more crowd-ready, galloping Arrowhead that – not surprisingly – found its way into YouTube.
No track on the record is bad, albeit the style somewhat ventures out into alternative territory on tracks like Gift Divine, which takes some of the coherence from the album. But by and large, this is an astonishing piece of work and generally a delight to listen to. You start off with the record, relax and all of a sudden find yourself half-way through the track list. On top you get this visceral kick and a full dose of emotions so crucial to a stellar record.
Sands of Time is one of those records that should make the old hands in the prog business listen up. Because some mighty competition just created this bump in the space-time continuum of the metal multiverse. The astounding song writing, the high-quality instrumentals and jaw-dropping emotion-dripping vocals will pretty much match everything out there at present. Which makes this band totally underrated. So, Scardust, get out there and shine. And I think you deserve more than just opening up for Epica, exciting as this may be today.
And I guess we just found ourselves a further contender for the 2017 Top 10 Records list. Good stuff, band. I am really impressed.
Record Rating: 9/10 | Label: Self-Released | Web: Facebook