03 November 2011
by Hugh Platt
Astrohenge’s second album sounds very much like how the scene depicted on its cover looks – that of a giant, highly-developed space culture invading a primitive planet with the intent of imposing enlightenment on them via the worship of giant, intergalactic riffs. And like such an incursion, Astrohenge choose not to communicate through the impenetrable language barriers that would surely exist between such an alien culture and that of mankind, but instead through the medium of pure, wordless sound instead.
The idea of this album as a message from the cosmic void is only encouraged by the contrarily-name opening track, ‘Goodbye’. The series of mysterious throbbing pips that herald the arrival of some monolithic, imperious-sounding guitars, throws up images of a the slow descent of a victorious UFO. That the album is book-ended by the booming similarities of the track’s equally reverse-named twin, ‘Hello’, merely reinforces this idea of Astrohenge descending from the clouds, laying down their sonic testament, and then zooming off to repeat the process on planetoids new.
Astrohenge differ from the majority of other purely instrumental acts insofar as they know how to, and perhaps more pertinently, they are capable of doing more than simply substituting guitars for vocals as the chief provider of focus and thrust to their music. All too often, instrumental bands will compensate for their lack of vocals by allowing their lead six-stringer simply to strut his fretboard in their place. Not so Astrohenge – with II they have crafted a record which is very much dependent of all of its performers to deliver the nuances and intricacies of its composure.
That isn’t to say that the six-string work of Matthew Rozeik and Hugh Harvey is downplayed – it is their guitar work suffuses much of the album with pace and power, but their role is only 50% of II’s story. Oliver Weeks’ keyboard work is deftly handled, provided more delicate, intricate textures when it is pushed to the front of the mix (such as with ‘My Life, She Is Over’, where Weeks’ keyboard tinkling sits atop some steamroller riffs from Rozeik and Harvey), yet can provide deeper, moodier chords to add additional spine when needed. You might not notice it amongst the snarling tides of guitars on ‘Ruined The Quest’, but they’re there alright. On a similar tact, Kieran Iles’ drumming practically scoffs at the notion of its requirement to “merely” be part of a rhythm section, with the character and texture it provides on tracks like ‘Tomb of The Mummy’ present throughout all of II.
Astrohenge’s second album sounds noticeably more comfortable in exploring and expanding upon the palate they were toying with on their debut. The nods to classical styles of composing are still there, with ‘Space Honkey’ brewing some truly baroque moods amongst the heaviness, but the album demonstrates firm developments in the band’s rare talent at crafting songs of surprising depth without using vocals as a disguise for any creative shortcomings. With II, Astrohenge sound more confident – almost damned-near cocky, if truth be told – than they did at any point on their debut, and they are all the stronger for it.
Sounds like: Karma To Burn without the macho-overload, and Mastodon before they chickened out on big riffs.
Top tracks: Tomb of the Mummy, My Life, She Is Over, Venusian Steel.