Astral Sleep seems to have a fittingly doom-like slow-but-steady pace; they released their debut demo in '05, which was followed by the full-lenght album "Unawakening" in 2008. They took part on a Thergothon-tribute in '09, and in 2010 they released this kind-of theme EP. The EP holds three ten-minute songs, all which have the same title and roughly the same lyrics, but have all been composed by a different band member according to their own tastes and vision of Astral Sleep's sound.
The band's music is still based on the same core values; funeral doom metal's slow pace and overwhelming feel mixed with a good twist of death metal for heavily rhythmic and powerful riffs, as well as a dose of heavy metal and a lot of weight put on the overall atmospheres. The opening song really shows the band's influences in the form of a brisk and heavy death metal-worshipping riff that kicks the EP into motion, until it slows down to slowly flowing doom metal. This song holds both the fastest and least conventional riffs of the three, and even presents some Cannibal Corpse-blasting by the drums to further unify the mixture of death and doom metal. The song surely keeps the listener on his/her toes while still sounding surprisingly natural. I was left with a feeling that the song's mixture could've been adjusted further to make it sound even more natural, and that it seems to going for greater heights than it's capable of. A good and cerainly original song nonetheless.
The follow-up is the most based on funeral doom's slow tempo and harsh heaviness instead of any form of catchiness or instant appeal. It rumbles forward slowly with it's simplistic but powerfully beating riffs, and the tastefully used synths create a layer of softness that makes the songs thicker and more atmospheric. It's the shortest and least twisted tune, but carries a dramatic atmosphere and, due to the few simple twists in the riffs, retains its appeal through its lenght. Some might find the tormented screams in its end to be banal, but they do fit the songs's dramatic development. The third tune progresses in a similarly slow vein, and for a lot of time it's only focused on vocals, drums, acoustic guitars and some synths, making the electric guitars sound even more powerful when they're used. This song really brings out the band's sense of style: the compositions go forward in a most natural pace and build up without any form of haste, making them all the more powerful and appealing. It also shows that the composers are not afraid to drop out the heaviness and the core doom metal-elements if it seems to suit the songs.
The band used an actual studio this time, and it is clearly audible through the clean (too clean to some, for sure) but powerful, and heavy but breathing sounds. The soundscape is barer than before, having been stripped down from any unnecessary elements, but maybe because of this very fact the songs and compositions carry even more power than before. Especially the drummer must be congratulated, as his minimalistic but very effective way of drumming really enhances the songs' impact. The same applies to the nicely groovy and plump bass guitar. Alongside wondering if the band manages to pull all their ideas into a concise form for their next release, my other main concern is with the young male vocalist; he has a lot of boldness and attitude in his voice, even arrogance to some extent, but he needs to rehearse quite a bit more until he can reach the heights he's aiming for. His voice is distinctive and has a range from shrieks and growls to the traditional clean doom metal vocals, but lacks credibility and power.
The EP comes in a decent-looking package, and the same adjective can be applied to the lyrics as well - they are good but lack character, most likely due to the fact that they had to be flexible enough to fit three different songs. I respect the band's courage in undertaking a theme-release of this kind, although I think it's one of the EP's downfalls as well; it keeps the songs from reaching to their own individual heights, as they had the same lyrics and theme keeping them down. I feel that the theme caused some compositional compromises, although I can be wrong. The EP is a bit of a heavy listening experience due to consisting of three strongly individual songs instead of a continuous musical whole, but I bet that most of the people out there have learned to expect experimentations like this from EP-releases. It's not as good a whole as their debut album, unsurprisingly, but is still more than good, presents bold ideas, and shows that we can expect some great things from the band in the future as well.
Astral Sleep is planning to record a new album next summer, and is currently searching for a suitable label to release it. They've got a few gigs coming up as well, so all those interested should keep their eyes on the band's site for news.