Astronoid’s ‘Dream Thrash': Blast Beats and Poppy Harmonies
“We're not trying to make metal popular or happy.”
Singer / guitarist Brett Boland is probably already sick of trying to explain the intentions behind Massachusetts five-piece Astronoid. But when a band this singular comes around, especially in such a notoriously fickle genre, it makes sense that people want to know exactly what's going on behind the scenes.
Self-identified worshippers of Emperor, Devin Townsend and M83, they've created a confounding amalgam of uplifting blast beats and shredding shoegaze sometimes identified as “dream thrash.” Frenetic, dynamic and baroque, topped by Boland's soaring multi-part harmonies, it's not quite like anything that's been done before.
Not too bad for something that began as a side project.
“Dan [Schwartz, bass] and I were in college for sound recording technology,” Boland says. “He had to do a project for school, and I came to him and said, 'I have these two songs.' And I could play everything, so that made it much easier for him.”
The project became the band's 2012 debut EP, November, a simplistic black metal endeavor featuring guest screams by Vattnet Viskar's Nick Thornbury. It's pretty good, but a far cry from what was built on top of that foundation.
During the slow dissolution of their math-prog outfit Hetfield & Hetfield, Boland and Schwartz began to focus on another Astronoid release and solidifying a full lineup. After their 2013 stopgap Stargazer EP, the band expanded to a quintet, featuring three guitarists and a far more ambitious vision that would become the 2016 debut full-length, Air.
“It was a good three years that we were working on the album,” Boland says of the self-produced release on Finland's Blood Music. “We were writing songs and sending them back and forth, and we wanted to figure out what we wanted this to sound like. We were questioning if we could do this and we thought, 'Yeah, who cares?'”
These kinds of risks led to one of the most striking and polarizing choices on Air: Boland's refusal to scream, his vocals instead landing much closer to Coheed & Cambria and Mew than anything blackened.
“I felt like no one else has done it,” Boland says. “And it was something I wanted to hear from some bands. The other bands who are screaming over their melodies, I just usually want to hear singing. I thought we could make it more ethereal and even catchy. And I want people to be able to sing along. That's part of the fun in music sometimes, to be able to sing along.”
There is a conscious effort to make sure that Astronoid is a band that can deliver a fulfilling live experience, which is the reason they've nearly vanished as they fine-tune everything to make sure it lives up to the music.
“All we care about is going out and crushing shows,” Boland says. “Ever since the album came out, we've been practicing. We scratched everything we've ever done live and we've had to do it all over and relearn and re-orchestrate songs. We practiced basically for a year to try and figure out how to do it. It's been a really long process. We played our first show in September, and I feel like it was worth the wait for us. I was worried that people would hate it, but it really worked.”
Of course, a successful live show leads to a crucial question for a band like Astronoid: Who are they going to play with?
“I feel like we could really play with anyone,” Boland says. “We could play with a metal band, we could play with a pop band. There's really nowhere you can place us, and I think that helps us out a lot. 2017 is going to be busy, and we are still making plans. But any bands that inspired us are a good spot.”
And that is what this all comes down to for Astronoid. It's not a competition to be the most certain kind of band, but instead a proper reflection of all the bands that excite them.
“We're really just trying to merge everything we love,” he adds. “I have 3,000 CDs, and everything on my CD rack is in Astronoid. I can point to each part as being a ripoff of some other band I love. And I think it has resonated with people because it's genuine. We don't have an agenda. I still don't even know what we're trying to do.”