In the world of heavy metal music, there is no right or wrong. There is no good or bad (I’m being abstract here, bare with a brother). One man’s dog shit is another man’s Black album. With that being said, music as an art is going to be liked by some and not by others. What you as the reader are doing right now is following me, exploring the twists and turns of the Citrus Heights, CA power metal dynamic known as Dire Peril, and their self-released debut EP Astronomical Minds.
This release is meant to be just a glimpse of what to expect from the band’s upcoming debut full-length record Through Time and Space. Now after dropping all these album names, I think it’s safe to say that we can get to the premise, root structure, and common denominator. This little California son has a bit of a fondness for the supernatural and the great beyond with absolutely no loss in translation. Now you might be thinking that this is all just name dropping and that the book should not be judged by its cover. Thus, I would like to assure you that it’s not. Through every moment of this 4-song glimpse into what is to come, including the impressively selected Blue Oyster Cult cover, composer Jason Ashcraft shows great pleasure and focus with creating a very eerie, mystical, and ambient tone (think Twilight Zone meets Dungeons and Dragons on steroids), while still making the attempt towards portraying what is perceived as highly advanced, fast-paced musical prowess.
This is not to say that at various times this musical prowess is not accomplished – it is. It’s very obvious that every bit of effort went towards creating a unique and powerful piece. My issue is that the album tends to all feel a little over-thought, the title track “Astronomical Minds (The Final Frontier)” being used as a prime example. Upon listening, it feels almost as if a comfortable flow is avoided when transitioning from section to section within each song. It’s simply the case that, musically speaking (even if progressive is the aim), the transitions still need to follow a semi logical progression. In this case, I feel that logical doesn’t much describe the transitions and they tend to feel unsettling (for lack of a better term). The best example can be heard during the bridge/second solo starting at about 3:15 into the song.
Vocally speaking, singer Norman Skinner very blatantly has a lot of skill and a lengthy range, with a taste for the eerie himself. One key thing is notable about his melodies that I will let you, the reader, decide your own feelings on. Very often, if not constantly, Skinner’s vocals are in a state of vibrato, regardless of the pitch or note in use (low, high, and extra high a la King Diamond if you will). This could be as a result of vocal layering, studio magic, or whole heartedly on purpose and straight from the mouth of hell itself (\m/Br0o0tal\m/). Regardless of the how or why, this could be interpreted in one of two ways: either you’re going to find that it fits the ever present attempt at ambiance perfectly, or you’re eventually going to perceive it as mock ghoulish, and ergo, it’s going to take away from the sound.
At the end of the day, this is an EP released early in the band’s career. I don’t want to rag on what is truly someone’s passion and hard work, but I do have to say that if this is a glimpse into what is to come from Through Time and Space then there are a few things I’d kindly like to suggest. First of all, a serious reconsideration is needed as to how the mastering done, as the levels on all parts are mildly unbalanced and tend not to provide justice to the skill implemented in each song. Secondly, it could also be considered to stray from the mystical and ambience that the music is so heavily based on, returning to logic and flow, and remembering that music, even if not especially metal, is something that needs to please the ears. Even in progressive genres, a path must be followed (think Meshuggah’s “Bleed” for example). Ultimately, if power metal is your thing, once these recordings are spruced up, you will truly Love Dire Peril and should take a listen for yourself.
Written by Jason Greenberg