Astral Glow is Zgard’s second full length endeavor on the BadMoodMan label (third album altogether though)and comes fairly quickly after last years Reclusion but within only a year the sound is dramatically shifting from a fair Slavic pagan atmospheric black metal attempt to a more blistering and aggressive symphonic black metal sound. To me this is a huge and very apparent jump when listening to both albums side by side and a very welcome one at that, it shows not only progression into a more detailed and cohesive sound but it’s teeming with just enough evil and mysticism to make it a lot more prominent of a release than it’s predecessor. And sure, unlike: Limbonic Art, Summoning, some Abigor, some Dissection, Arturus, and Emperor Zgard is still an incipient project and shows that to a certain degree; but it’s also extremely difficult to meet those expectations then and especially now, and with that said Zgard is a very worthy new act that is rapidly developing from awkward beginnings with promise to something well-worth experiencing if you’re looking for true melodic black metal with symphonic and pagan elements. But even though the project is developing quickly and in the right direction, it’s not without some distinct flaws.
With that said here are several of my main gripes with Astral Glow thus far: the production is a little too clean for me, perhaps if he’s going to go for the raging buzzing riffs and blast beats that are thankfully appearing on this release (were very present but not as good on his debut) then he might want to rough it up a bit so that it doesn’t sound so modern; some of the elements/instruments are overshadowed; and it’s also a bit flat. If Yaromysl (Zgard) is intentionally going for futuristic versus an archaic medieval atmosphere then he’s spot on with the title song “Astral Glow”, but with the creepy cosmic synth making a huge presence on much of the album including this song, it just feels like lackluster so perhaps the mix needs to be muddied up a bit or even have the guitars more prominent, or do something in the mixing/mastering to make it more dramatic. My gripes become even more amplified with otherwise majestic songs like the opener “Balance in the Universe” on which the melody and rhythm are really really good but they are on the same level in the mix which somehow flattens them into s 2-D rather than 3-D as it should be. When the dynamics and intensity are downplayed unintentionally (I hope so for Zgard’s sake) like that it kills the flavor and this is a continual issue throughout the album. To many this might not be a fatal flaw as many black metal bands are great for this, but for what Zgard is trying to do and portray it’s fatal and hearing how much of a great album this is amidst that dilution the result plays more like an atmospheric album with very little atmosphere. I would also have to say that the drums sound a bit mechanical at times, he really needs more bass drum emphasis to balance the riffs and to play around with layering the instruments a bit more and maybe working with different rhythms on snare, toms, cymbals to give it some variety as well.
A glaring example of this is the second song, “When Breaking Down All the Ideals”, which has a lot of great piano and flute sections alongside some notable riff work but the balance of the elements in the mix isn’t right so they wind up sounding chaotic and haphazardly collaged although in actuality they aren’t . There also feels as though there’s no climax within the songs, they sort of go along steadily and then suddenly break into a synth only interlude and start back up again, which hurts the effect that this song could really have and yet again kills the atmosphere. The riffs and rhythm work on Astral Glow are really crunchy and heavy which gives the sound a much needed deadly right hook, but its actual blow ends up being more of a tap than a knock-out because of the unbalanced dynamics and according to the insert he’s actually the one doing all instruments and mastering therefore committing sound suicide.
So although he has a way to go, he’s covered a lot of territory in a year and hopefully as he grows he’ll learn not too iron out so much of the textures and let the albums have the ups and downs needed to make a real impact. The songs are great, the instrumentation is great, the timing and general placement is great, it jsut doesn’t come across as great when all are combined. And in retrospect his actual debut, Spirit of the Carpathian Sunset, released by notable black metal label Darker Than Black had some of the same flaws but with the rawer and archaic production it worked a lot better for him than it does here but they show similarities that he’s obviously going back to, which he should to some extent. I even prefer both albums over Reclusion and hear some the debuts fire burning in Astral Glow, which could have dialed down the production a bit and maintained most of that initial aggression and some of the archaic vibe to create something that had a bit more power to it so hopefully that’s where he’s actually going with the project. Overall Astral Glow comes across as an idea from a mind right on the verge of getting it right but desperately needs to take a moment and step away from it until the flickering light bulb that is Astral Glow finally fully glows and then he releases that album.
The full album can be streamed and purchased as well as it’s predecessor at : http://zgard.bandcamp.com/