Reviewed: [May 2022]
Released [2022 Massacre Records]
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
Ad Astra is the third full-length from German one-manish band Bloodred, led by guitarist/bassist/vocalist Ron Merz. But as with the previous two albums, he gets a hand from the Atrocity/Leaves Eyes camp with Joris Nijenhuis contributing drums and Alexander Krull producing, mixing and mastering. And that familiarity and experience certainly pay off here.
Even with the assist, the effort still must have kept Merz quite busy, given its layer upon layer of instrumentation and often complex arrangements culminating in the 11:20 title track that closes the album out. But with the COVID lockdowns and isolation of the past two years, that was probably a glass half full scenario as far as Merz was concerned.
He certainly made the most of the time because Ad Astra is grandiose, genuinely epic slab of melodic blackened death metal that often sounds more the work of an army of musicians. The opening track “Shatterer Of Worlds” sets the tone with its wall of brisk, shimmering trem guitars, thrumming bass, sudden tempo shifts, and wash of effects, all capped by Merz’s phlegmy growl. “With Existence Comes Suffering” follows with a more straight-ahead death metal gallop punctuated by flighty lead breaks and grooves that recall Hypocrisy.
The album mixes and mingles these two approaches to a certain degree much of the rest of the way, leaning more toward black metal on “Neon Gods,” “Twilight Falls” with its folky hue at the outset or the symphonically inclined “Fire, Ash And Dust,” then tilting the other way on the death metallier “Realm Of Silence” and the grinding “United/Divided.” The aforementioned title track essentially takes bits of all of the above and crams it into a sprawling grand finale that grows bigger and more involved as moves along – save for a brief ethereal aside just after the 8-minute mark.
The one tune that does straddle the periphery is “All Is Bleak” – which was labeled as a bonus track on the digital promo but is oddly positioned as the fourth song, instead of being added at the end, but I guess that does make some sense if the intent was to not steal any of the title track’s thunder. Anyway, its quaking, gothy doom is more along the lines of Daylight Dies or Paradise Lost, and it certainly brings the sort of drama those bands are noted for in its riffy swells and fittingly maudlin tone.
In Nijenhuis, Merz has an ideal partner, of sorts. The drummer’s agile battery effortlessly steers the music through its shifting moods and he shows some real panache, adding character along the way and not simply keeping the beat. And given that Merz wrote all and performed most of the music, a bit of fresh perspective and personality is probably a good thing, subtle as it may be.
Krull does his part by providing a suitably big sound to complement Merz’s ambition and vision, and blending the multitude of layers with both clarity and crunch. And while Ad Astra might have benefited from a few more meaty choruses a la the shout-alongs of “Neon Gods” or some of grooviness of “With Existence Comes Suffering,” it still builds on the already impressive work Merz and Bloodred had done earlier and takes it to a whole other level.