It’s hard to overstate the achievement that is Stardust, a debut full-length record by Romanian progressive stellar argonauts The Thirteenth Sun released via Aural Music.
The music on Stardust is relentless, yet restrained; heavy, yet soaring; familiar, but adventurous. It is passionate, melancholy, tragic, stellar, and occasionally euphoric. It is definitely one of the densest offerings out this year, and it takes more than a couple casual listens to fully appreciate it. But once you sit back, close your eyes, and really experience the album, you will catch a glimpse of the spark of genius that inspired this album.
Concretely, the album feels like a conceptual anthology. The lyrics are poetic and abstract, what adds a lot to the album on an emotional level.
The songs themselves work best in context, but opening “Universus,” “Universe is Burning,” “Melting Skies” and “The Fabric of Time” stand confidently on their own. Some of the best moments exist in contrast: the acoustic intro in “Planes of Creation” is simple but welcome after the wrenching emotional tension of the previous “Pathways.” A very welcome change in the pace on “Planes of Creation,” with growl vocals courtesy of Barna Radu Liviu displays a grandiose talent that The Thirteenth Sun has.
The guitars and bass sound thick and dense, while still allowing the drums to sound crisp and clean. The riffs on this album are powerful and dynamic and the lighter guitar parts feel more ambient and sweet. Guitarists Liviu and Marius Licu create impenetrable soundscapes, beautiful interludes and they give The Thirteenth Sun its driving power, instead of displaying overly technical wankery and riffage. About four minutes into “Melting Skies” contains some tight chuggy riffs working together with nice syncopated drums. The lead guitar parts are mixed in a way that they flow seamlessly on top of the rhythm parts — this use of layers gives the album a very blended natural guitar sound.
Death growls in the style of Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt and stylish keyboard accompaniment, courtesy of Muntean Marius, are integrated into prog rock structures that push the clean vocals to the forefront. This blend of strong and complex guitar melodies and catchy choruses results in an album that’s instantly appealing and enjoyable. The variation of great instrumentation, the excellent choices of vocal styling and the heavy melody that define this album just impress me.
The bass is handled by Alecu and remains very audible and defined in the mix. He works well with the guitarists to make their riffs pound even lower into the ground and displays a very smooth relaxed style when complementing the occasional soft sections. Drummer Septimiu Harsan does an amazing job on Stardust. He adds delicious fills and appealing cymbal work to the environment of the overall sound.
Another in the ocean of highlights about Stardust is an impeccable production by Edmond Karban (Negura Bunget, Dordeduh) — the drums are forceful and insistent, vocals are “drowning” in echoing pathos, and the guitars, bass and keyboards all sound huge. Last but not least, a wonderful artwork by designer extraordinaire Costin Chioreanu (Ulver, Arcturus, Enslaved, Arch Enemy) complements the music and the story of Stardust.
The album is available via Aural Music as digital download, Jewel Box CD and Deluxe Gatefold Double LP in Translucent Aquamarine vinyl with 4 bonus tracks taken from the band’s debut EP Genesis. You can see photos of the vinyl edition below.
Ultimately, I believe this album will be the yardstick against which all future The Thirteenth Sun albums will be measured. Stardust flirts with perfection and — if nothing else — proves it’s within the group’s reach.
Stardust is definitely looking like it will fit into the Top 10 of 2017.