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On “Elephant Island,” Astrosaur Find Clarity in Progressive, Grooving Madness

obscuroscope

The brainchild of guitarist and composer Erik Kråkenes, Norwegian experimental post-metal outfit Astrosaur was founded three years ago as an instrumental project consisting of himself, bassist Steinar Glas, and drummer Jonatan Eikum. Veteran participants of the Norwegian progressive scene, Kråkenes and his bandmates are decorated with the high honor of working as session musicians with artists such as Leprous and Ihsahn in addition to holding degrees from the prestigious Conservatory of Music in Kristiansand. Astrosaur’s first record Fade In // Space Out (2017) introduced the world to their sludgy stoner-prog approach and suggested an entity equally archaic and futuristic, primeval and eternal.

In the two years since the release of their debut, the group have refined the individualism and veracity of talent in their material even further, honing in on the esoteric and innovative potential of their style with their sophomore album Obscuroscope. Complete with imagery fully embracing the hidden wisdom of the occult (the merkaba, Thelemic hexagram, and astrally projecting elephants, to name a few), Astrosaur’s second full-length serving of extraterrestrial soundscapes — released last Friday via Pelagic Records — serves as a portal into the mysteries of a primordial earth with a bold expansion on the group’s unique sonic amalgam. As a companion to the album’s fourth track “Elephant Island,” the group has now unveiled a video whose visuals are as cerebral and abstract as the textures of the song itself, which you can stream at the link below.

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In a perfect synthesis of aesthetics, the video begins with negative, non-representational forms and bursts of flickering iridescence illustrating waves of effects-laden instrumental ambience, a complement to the bleak melancholy of the track’s introductory passage. As the hanging minimalism of the track’s preface drops into doomier, more hefty riffage, these soft images are replaced with rippling walls of static distortion that cascading through a void of sinister digital hues. Suddenly, “Elephant Island” tears itself out of its warbling post-metal aural soup with a savage, piercing barrage of sludge; as the timbre of the composition becomes more sleek and caustic, the video follows suit with lights undulating more erratically, yet interleaved with more coherent images of Astrosaur’s three members performing in a surreal, claustrophobic space.

As Kråkenes launches into a punishingly chaotic solo, his virtuosic phrasings usher in visibly tangible silhouettes of the group playing in a tightly packed venue lit by aquatic green and blue shades, but the buzzing thrum of the track’s overdriven final riffs pierce through the grainy footage in the form of erratic blips and glitches on the screen.

This whirlwind then subsides, and the track once again fades into lingering ambience, leaving us with scrolling images of icebergs that slowly grow more broken and disparate; only now does one realize that these melting pieces of ice are the abstract forms from the beginning of the video, bringing “Elephant Island’” around full circle, both visually and musically. Concerning the origin of the footage within the video, Kråkenes explained that “like the rest of Obscuroscope, ‘Elephant Island’ is inspired by curiosity and explorations. It was only fitting to include video from our own expeditions, so we used footage from concerts in Kristiansand, Berlin and Paris.” Despite the relatively commonplace concept “live performance” concept behind the video, its creator Ingrid Kristensen Bjornaali has endowed it with the same disorienting extraterrestrial demeanor that pervades Astrosaur’s sonic spectacle, creating visuals that faithfully communicate the group’s juxtaposition between experimentation and accessibility.

Like all six tracks on Obscuroscope, the piece serves as a standalone showcase of Kråkenes’s ability to sweep through ranges of emotions and timbres with explosive riffs and solos. Within a single composition, his leads shift from progressive and mathematical to righteous and enrapturing — “Elephant Island” portrays this ability to deceptively launch into a new texture mid-song as its atmospheric first movement spills over into a righteously jagged sludge onslaught halfway through. Astrosaur emulsifies these contrasting textures seamlessly as to merge all elements into a free-flowing unison, ultimately achieving something decidedly organic despite the heavy use of electronic manipulation throughout. The track also provides a prime example of Eikum’s driving percussion style that persists throughout the record, even in its more meditational and repetitive post-metal patterns; when combined with Glas’s agile, unconventional, jazzy basswork, the album’s rhythmic section is just as eccentric and indefinable as Kråkenes in their diverse approach to harmony. Astrosaur combines these contrasting textures so seamlessly that they merge all elements into a free-flowing unison, ultimately achieving something decidedly organic despite the heavy use of electronic manipulation.

While “Elephant Island” — and the record as a whole — ultimately provides a considerably more polished interpretation of the group’s sound than their debut effort, it is by no means restrained or tediously sterile, and though the technicality and dexterity displayed here is impressive, Astrosaur never abandon their grizzled, brand of raw sludge. Traveling far beyond the paradigm of any one genre, Obscuroscope represents more than a simple stylistic crossover, but rather an authentic outpouring flavored by a multitude of genres but, ultimately, faithful to none.

Obscuroscope released last Friday via Palegic Records.

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