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Stargazery - Constellation Award winner

by Kira Schletcher at 28 May 2020, 5:09 AM

Such a lovely palate cleanser is “Constellation,” the latest from Finland’s STARGAZERY, a refreshing blast of old-school, un-shy, most enthusiastic power metal. This is their third album, following “Stars Aligned” in 2015 and “Eye on the Sky” in 2011. “Sinners In Shadows” introduces us to Jari’s clean, soaring tenor, rich with vibrato (later on, he displays a formidable lower register as well), and the band’s equally bright traditional metal sound. The pre-chorus is heavenly, as is the chorus, which bemoans how the powers that be run things behind the scenes (the “sinners in shadows” who perpetuate “the sadness, the anger not allowed”). It’s perfectly produced too – and no, production isn’t a dirty word!

Pasi is rather the JENS JOHANSSON of this band, and they have no fear of letting him take the instrumental lead. He solos, he duets with Pete – it’s not like there’s not plenty of guitars, but Pasi is undoubtedly there all the time, and he’s there because he should be, in a very natural, unforced way. In “War Torn,” his keyboards provide the main riff, with guitars serving as the foundation and adding toughness. It’s a track about being down but living to fight again (“my soul is war torn,” like I’ve been through difficulty). You know you’ve screwed up (“Rats are fleeing the ship that’s not even sinking/Biting their way through the walls of broken vows,” like there’s cracks in your armor), but you’re trying to make amends.

Their instinctive ability to craft a sticky chorus – the one in “Self-Proclaimed King” mimicking majestic, stately HAMMERFALL at its best – is never questioned. This is kind of about being a legend in your own mind, or being the emperor with no clothes, surrounded by yes-men (“Congregation of jesters are calling”) – it could be personal or it could be political as well. “Ripple The Water” starts with bass, then marches into a keyboard/guitar jaunty swing that continues throughout. As always, nothing goes on too long – even the ending is one chorus, a little flourish, and done. I just found my new theme song with this track – it’s about being afraid to take chances or stand up for yourself when you really need to – someone who is “Tough outside, (with) inside insecurity,” who “When push comes to shove you will run/When it’s time to play your cards, you’re afraid/To ripple the water.” Guilty as charged, but with a chorus this powerful, I’ll take it!

“I Found Angels” boasts another stirring chorus – that little pause before the words start is perfect, and the final one modulates just as it should. The change in perspective in the second chorus, from “where are my angels” to “I found angels,” is a damn nice resolution there in a tidy three minutes or so. This seems to be about self-reliance – your “angels” could be the positive thoughts you use to keep negativity away, or, more literally, they could be friends who look after you and care for you.

The title track is faster but still light and airy – those lines with the alternating vocal harmonies are terrific. The slower bridge is led by what sounds like a harpsichord, then it picks up to the original speed. It’s a bit longer, as suitable for a title track, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome. You could construe it as being autobiographical, like charting STARGAZERY’S journey as a band (“far and near approved by loyals, we're on our way” and “our time is here, we won’t disappear”) and being confident in the result – “we took our time to prepare the feast for your soul,” that is, this music.

By “Caught in the Crossfire,” it really struck me how personal and internal this stuff is. Here Jari sings of a “Stampede of thoughts/I’m caught in the crossfire,” like overthinking things, and realizes that “I’ve bent over backwards/Arguing with myself.” The self-examination is totally not what you’d expect in a power metal context, but it’s really refreshing. There’s no surprises or no new ground broken with tracks like “Dark Side of the Moon,” but it all just sounds so good. The keyboard solos here as throughout, but all the sounds Pasi uses are slightly different each time. Another modulation at the end incorporates plenty of harmony vocals. This touches on having a dark side that you keep well hidden (“It’s in your eyes, the truth you try to hide/Pantomime gets you through the day”).

An organ-like keyboard and bottom-heavy guitar riff starts ”In My Blood.” It may quiet down before the prechorus builds it back up, but even when they get soft, it’s only briefly – here, it’s just in the verses. This seems to advocate resisting self-pity or wallowing in sadness (”Sorrow comes knocking, a friend I know so well,” yes, but “Harness the fear, drain all its power, make it work for you”). The closer, “Raise The Flag,” has plenty of neoclassical drama with its fine uplifting tempo and chugging metal riff. The bridge picks up in intensity and layers, and in this one, the guitar riff takes precedence. The eventual modulation makes the last chorus that much more soaring and direct.

It doesn't take a whole lot of stretching to see the political commentary in this one and the references to a certain head of state (“Pompous and arrogant, the king and the master/Shamelessly ignorant, walking disaster”) – the pre-chorus is the turn of the knife (“As long as I Iook good/As long as I am right, I don't mind your views”), and the chorus is pure resistance (“When my soul turns black/It’s time to raise the flag”). The best thing about “Constellation” is the innate sense of restraint STARGAZERY exhibits. It could be so overdone and overblown but it’s not and yay them. There’s always a solo section, but it’s short; the lyrics can be sentimental, but they’re not sappy. There’s absolutely no overindulgence, something so easily done in this style, but they refrain from it and it gives them such maturity and intelligence. Again, yay them!

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Sinners in Shadows
2. War Torn
3. Self-Proclaimed King
4. Ripple The Water
5. I Found Angels
6. Constellation
7. Caught In The Crossfire
8. Dark Side Of The Moon
9. In My Blood
10. Raise The Flag
Jari Tiura - Vocals
Pete Ahonen - Guitar
Pasi Hiltula - Keyboards
Marko Pukkila - Bass
Ilkka Leskela - Drums
Record Label: Pure Steel Records


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