Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Black With Stars - Black With Stars
Musical Style: Doom Metal Produced By: David Storrs
Record Label: Independent Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2016 Artist Website: Black With Stars
Tracks: 8 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 37:51

Black With Stars - Black With Stars

Black With Stars is one of the best kept secrets of the doom metal genre.  Distinctive to extremely heavy and slow-paced riffing, dark and down tuned low-end heaviness and lyrical content that often deals with darker side of issues, the form has produced two leading players within Christian hard music circles: Pÿlon and Place Of Skulls.  Pÿlon hails from Switzerland and has released seven albums since its 2002 founding by vocalist Matt Brand, with my favorites encompassing 85% Angelic Warlord reviewed efforts Doom (2009) and Homo Homini Lupus (2014) but also those graded at 80% in Armoury Of God (2011) and A Lament (2016).  The brainchild of US based guitarist/vocalist Victor Griffin, Place Of Skulls has not matched the output of Pÿlon with four albums and one EP to its credit since its 2000 inception but has reached similar heights artistically, as found in the 90% Angelic Warlord graded The Black Is Never Far (2006) and 85% work As A Dog Returns (2010).

You can add Black With Stars to the list.  With ‘Lunar Base Camp’ listed as its hometown (as noted in its Facebook page), Black With Stars formed when three musicians whom had previously worked together in Gothic rock outfit Vladimirs came together with the goal of pursuing a ‘different musical direction’: vocalist/guitarist Brian Day, bassist crank! and drummer Erick Tuffendsam.  When placed alongside, the Black With Stars independently released 2016 self-titled debut full length lacks much of the overt progressiveness to Pÿlon, whom have gained renown for lengthy songwriting (often in the 7 to 8 minute range and even exceeding 10) and extensive instrumental proclivity.  Rather, Black With Stars compares more favorably with Place With Skulls from how it stays true to the gloomy, moody and swarthy elements inherent to the doom genre, while also proving a whole lot more in reflecting influences as diverse as classic rock, straightforward hard rock and even Southern rock.

Black With Stars further separates itself from Pÿlon by the manner in which lead vocalist Brian Day brings a clean and soulful mid-paced style not unlike that of Griffin as opposed to Brand, whose harsh and guttural delivery has been described as ‘forlorn’ and ‘coming from beyond the veil of death’.  Also similar to Place Of Skulls, the melodic vocal penchant to Black With Stars allows for an added element of accessibility - perhaps catchy hooks is the term I am looking for - not always associated with all things doom (a very good thing if you ask me). Again, the key being how Black With Stars is ‘doom and a whole lot more”, noting its influences (again, from Facebook) include ‘usual suspects’ such as Black Sabbath and Trouble but also Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep and Jerusalem.   

“Black Sun (Red Moon)” is the first of eight Black With Stars cuts.  The song presents with a bit more up-tempo groove than is often innate to doom metal, reflective of a persuasive hard rock ardor while still leaning towards the sludgy and swarthy side of things.  Ultimately setting it apart are its subtle but conclusive hooks, of the kind that while not of the commercial variety, allow for the potential to attract those tastes extend outside the doom genre.

“Doublespeak” slows momentum and lightens guitars (even if slightly either way) while maintaining the melodic hook emphasis.  Main calling card to the song are the southern lacings to the guitars, as found throughout its ample instrumental portions (this would be a good time to compliment Day on his felicitous soloing abilities).  Vocally, he adds a touch of gravel to his heartfelt style.

Albums best track (in my opinion) is “Pandemonium’s Engine”, and not just for the cool title but for being a full on doom monster.  The song begins to narration from Zechariah 5 before plunging forward in caustic mid-paced fashion, elevating guitars to well past the metal threshold but grounded in ample doses of lower register groove (rhythm section of crank! and Tuffendsam really lock in tightly on this one).  Interestingly, an apocalyptic metal feel is the upshot.

“On A Glimpse” represents the group’s most up-tempo effort.  With copious levels of incisive energy powering things forward, the song revels in the boastful as southern flavored guitars return to dance in and out of the mix, while Day lends a rapid-fire vocal delivery to the lively refrain.  Perhaps it is just me, but his exuberant performance on “On A Glimpse” reminds somewhat of Ian Keith Hafner (Jaguar Blaze, Static Fuse).

Hauntingly entitled “In A Mirror Darkly” slows things with its bleak bass guitar driven undertones.  This one effectively captures the somber aesthetics to doom, as trenchant guitars reflect upon the forlorn and understated hooks continue to play a prominent role.  Check out the extended stretch of intense lead guitar at the end.

“P.I.D.” slows impetus even further with its gritty groove in a mid-paced package.  Driven its span by full on muscle, the song sets a perseverant tone with its caustic qualities but avoids the pitfalls of repetition with its use of catchy rhythms throughout.  A joining of the trenchant and melodic might be the best way to describe things here.

“The Chance” charges out of the gate to compact guitar harmonies, which propel both its bulky verses and contrastingly elevated but sweeping refrain.  Day adds to the brusque setting by adding some scratchy grit to his delivery.  Instrumentally, things start forthright before decelerating to an acerbic romp.

Album closes to “Diadem”, a decisive slab of groove driven hard rock with tempo of a terse variety and plenty of bass breathing in the backdrop.  This one might be a bit deliberate in lacking some of the technical acumen of the cuts preceding - it comes in at only three minutes - but is solid nonetheless.

Production meets expectations for an independent release.  There is nothing to complain in that all the needed ingredients are present: guitars in a forward position along with bass and drums in adequate portions and even vocal mix.  Packaging, however, is a bit bare bones with basic black and white cover art (that actually befits the doom genre) and a single page insert with credits, web links, etc on the back.  No lyrics, but they can be found at the groups Bandcamp page.

As for lyrics, I might describe them as steeped in Biblical imagery or making subtle statements of faith, such as on “P.I.D.”:

Willfully ignorant, we don't want it to be true.
That we are not the gods we always thought we knew.
A serpents promise is a pact with wicked pride.
Attempts to satiate the infinite inside.

One way, one road, one path, we're headed that way too.
Your teleology may be somewhat askew.
In terms of entropy, we're headed toward the end.
Soteriology dictates your knee must bend.

- and “The Chance”:

All through your life, indoctrinated to,
Believe intention of their invention, that's false if it is true.
Come with me now, we'll run into the light.
And find our way, and leave behind the night.

Searching out glory and wisdom, to keep as your own.
Fixating on your own image, turning to stone.
There is no new revelation, you've heard it before.
Waiting in anticipation, to step through the door.

“Black Sun (Red Moon)” seems to be a dissertation on the fallen nature of man:

Trapped in sin, the ground opens up just to swallow our venomous tainted blood.
It did begin with a trip and a fall, now we wallow and plead our case toward the grudge.
A burning pride now will lead you, your own hand will feed you
the same one that made for your doom.
We'll wipe the sleep from our eyes
So we can realize, and escape from the fate that now looms.

Black Sun, Red Moon, depart from a world that is shaken.
Black Sun, Red Moon, take heart from a world that is

I might describe “Pandemonium’s Engine” as focusing on apocalyptic themes:

Pandemonium's Engine.
On the blood of saints, is running hot.
And pushing hard past the red line.
Pandemonium's Engine.
Is running hot til the prey is caught.
And warping all of space and time.

'MA-HA BONE', the dead now groan.
Whom was, is not, and is yet to come.
To mix the iron with the clay.

The flag is flown, they stand alone.
The lost will weep as they watch the sky.
As they are gently led astray

If interested in a very good albeit short 8-song doom metal album then the self-titled debut of Black With Stars fits the bill.  Again, Black With Stars has more in common with Place Of Skulls (as opposed to Pÿlon) with its focus on accessibility and from how it mixes other musical forms.  Without doubt the darker and more ominous caricatures to doom make their presence felt but not to quite the same extent as Pÿlon with its more caustic flavorings.  Yes, I like Pÿlon, but if I were to invite comparison, Pÿlon is one of those groups whose CD’s you take with you on an extended road trip, while Place Of Skulls you listen to casually on the way to work.  Black With Stars, much to its credit, better falls within the latter category. 

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Black With Stars” (3:46), “Doublespeak” (6:29), “Pandemonium’s Engine” (4:49), “On A Glimpse” (4:22), “In A Mirror Darkly” (4:11), “P.I.D.” (5:55), “The Chance” (4:44), Diadem” (3:10)

Brian Day - Lead Vocals & Guitars
crank! - Bass
Eric Tuffendsam - Drums


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