Full Album Debut: The Sun Through A Telescope – I Die Smiling
I did something odd with I Die Smiling: I put off writing about it until the last minute. Generally speaking, I prefer to come to grips with my work quickly, and dispatch it before it has time to mass against me. But The Sun Through A Telescope is a tough nut to crack, and I needed more time.
In a perfect world, I'd still be digesting this album, rather than writing about it now. Typically, when you review an album, you want to find some kind of unifying thread that ties the listening experience together. If there is one on I Die Smiling, it's difficult to find. The colors it uses — black metal, drone, doom, post-rock, noise rock — are all familiar, but they're blended in surprising ways. "Mr. Yawning Infinity Chasm - SuperInfinity" alternates between a verse that could have come from a recent Today is the Day record and a chorus that sounds like a lost riff from Leviathan's Massive Conspiracy Against All Life. I've heard bands with a Today is the Day influence, and I've heard people imitate Leviathan, but never at the same time. Then, effectively out of nowhere, the song breaks into a major-key sludge riff. As you listen to more and more metal albums, it becomes exponentially more difficult for them to surprise you. Delivering surprises, even to jaded listeners, is no object for this band.
The Sun Through A Telescope is the work of just one man — Lee Neutron of Ottawa, Ontario. Neutron is more than competent at all the standard rock instruments, and uses samplers and synths effectively to boot. He's also something of a prodigy as a vocalist, with a broad range of both clean and harsh tones at his disposal. Neutron's skills allow him to throw a huge diversity of moods at the listener: bright and stately on "You Can't Kill Me" and "I Die Smiling"; clattering and violent on "Every Day Is Like Black Hole Svnday" and "The Bitten"; tranquil and almost completely still on "It, Still" and the sprawling centerpiece "Werewolf Weather."
The diversity makes for a thrilling listen, but also a frustrating one. At times, the abrupt changes leave you with the feeling that Neutron is trolling you. Perhaps he is. He's openly (and intertextually) gleeful about stymied expectations on the title track:
I built a raft from discarded CDs
Boris, Cave In, and Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Sailed on a sea of tears cried from the eyes
Of one million disappointed metalheads
I might be frustrated by I Die Smiling at times, but I am certainly not disappointed by it. This album is the kind of unexpected musical challenge that makes it so exciting to be a metal fan today. It's also Neutron's first full length; he has just three cassette releases under his belt. One can only wonder what the future holds for him.