StarGazer’s “Psychic Secretions” Ooze Menace And Melody (Review)
StarGazer has a lot of history, and with that, a lot of high hopes whenever they drop new material. As one of Australia’s longest-running extreme metal bands and one of their best, fans are always ravenous for more. Though StarGazer’s lineup certainly keeps a lot of new music flowing via side projects, full length releases under the StarGazer name are a relative scarcity, and Psychic Secretions comes some seven years after the band’s last full length back in 2014.
Most of what StarGazer has done on this record is firmly in line with what they have done in the past, and fans of A Great Work of Ages or A Merging to the Boundless should be satisfied with Psychic Secretions. Heavy riffs still take the forefront, the vocals still shred, and the band seamlessly shifts from something that might fit on a Slaughter Lord song to repetitive and droning black metal to gorgeous melodic riffing to chanting clean vocals with the careless aplomb that they always have. These guys have been working towards their current sound since the mid-’90s and know exactly when to annihilate and when to croon, and the journey that Psychic Secretions leads is an exciting one.
At its core, StarGazer’s essential sound is a certain sort of progressive extremism that takes from all corners of black and death metal to shred eardrums, and the new album is no exception. All in all, the wait was worth it; it’s inevitable that comparisons will be made to the band’s previous records, for better or worse, but progressive and interesting music can’t be rushed, and StarGazer have on this new record taken many of their past elements in new and interesting directions. The sneering extremity that most of their previous material has remains, but has taken at times a backseat to a more epic feeling (though the songs themselves are shorter than some of the actual epics on previous records) and to a loose sense of melodicism that ties together songs rather than having them be threaded by an onslaught of pounding riffs.
An obvious development is how smooth and driving Damon Good’s bass lines are this time around; though of course bass has always been an important element in StarGazer’s music, they’re more Cynic-esque than ever, delivering not just the jazzy backing melodies and expected counterpoint but providing a near-constant background thrum that’s as delightful as it is impressive. Not many extreme metal bands in this vein bother with bass and while that has never been a problem for StarGazer, Damon has only gotten better over the years and isn’t wasted at all on Psychic Secretions. Another interesting change is the killer way that Denny’s lead guitar harmonies sometimes soar over the backing rhythms, giving an ethereal tinge to sections that on a previous record may have stayed more raging instead. It’s not universal to every section or even every song, and it isn’t dramatic, but dynamics are an important element to the StarGazer concoction, and with every record the band finds a new way to fill the extreme ranges of gentleness and anger that the members want to convey.
Though there’s plenty to dive into in terms of the expansion of the band’s sound, there is also a sense of narrowing inwards at the same time that merits discussion. The slithering and personal melodies of “Pilgrimage” follow the album’s only clean vocal section, which was opposite to some fan expectations of an increase in clean singing following Denny’s success with his new heavy metal band, Road Warrior. Sections of doom and despair abound, but the highest peaks of aggression from previous albums—such as the furious intro to “Black Gammon” on the band’s previous record—don’t make repeat appearances, and this is in fact the first full length StarGazer album to open with introspection rather than fury. Perhaps it’s StarGazer’s way of showing stately maturity, or maybe they just get enough of that with their other bands—but regardless, it’s a new side to the band, and while some fans might not welcome a less aggressive album, the quality of songwriting and care that went into Psychic Secretions cannot be denied.
The record also marks the first output with new drummer Alan Cadman (aka Khronomancer), who provides an excellent barrage of varied beats to the album. While I am not very familiar with Alan’s work prior to joining StarGazer, it’s obvious why they decided to stick with him, and the impressive flurry of drumming behind the riffs both keeps the album tethered and propels it forward at all times. There are other laudable aspects of the songwriting, such as how Denny somehow manages to write dual-guitar parts that sound as fresh and interesting as two masters operating on all cylinders, and the force of the snarling harsh screams that make up the bulk of the vocals on the album deserves its own callout. The production is also incredible: every instrument is simultaneously powerful and distinct, which can be a rarity in death metal. Whoever was responsible for the mixing and recording of this one deserves a medal, especially given how layered the album could be at times with several guitar parts, a separate bass voice, drums, and vocals all happening in tandem.
StarGazer has long been Australia’s best active death metal band, and Psychic Secretions just cements that. This comes with an extremely high recommendation for fans of all stripes of extreme music.
Psychic Secretions released on February 26th, 2021 via Nuclear War Now! Productions