Don’t feel too bad if you missed Astral Mass’s debut EP last year. The Indianapolis trio’s first full length album includes the three songs that made up All Systems Go, along with four more tracks in the same bludgeoning stoner metal style influenced by Clutch, Melvins, and Fu Manchu. Either way, it’s still not too late to check out one of the most aggressive bands associated with the space rock movement.
If anything has changed between All Systems Go and Astral Mass’s self-titled album, it may be the more dominant guitar. While the band is still largely defined by Mike Naish’s persistent bass and harsh bellows and drummer Nic Ciobotaru has a steady presence, the rhythm guitar is more prominent in the mix than before. This can be attributed to Jeff Kaleth having a more active role this time around, even taking the lead vocal spot on the closing “Jovian Winds,” though having Fu Manchu’s Bob Balch provide additional guitar work on “Matter Smasher” and “Desert Planet” sure doesn’t hurt either.
But while the band’s idea of dynamics may just be letting a single guitar or bass line highlight a riff before the rest of the band joins in the onslaught, their songwriting could hardly be called one-dimensional. Even with only seven songs, they utilize plenty of different tempos as “Matter Smasher” and “Jovian Winds” bookend the album with mid-tempo pummeling, “Clear the Tower” is a the driving instrumental that transitions to a spacy second half, and “Rise Armada” and “Apollo’s Hand” are heavy buildups. Part of me still wishes there had been another catchy track like “Cosmic String” but the song variety in combination of the forty-five minute album length keeps the band from wearing out its welcome.
What you see is what you get is the ultimate rule on Astral Mass’s self-titled album. It is a surprisingly grounded effort given its elements of psychedelia and interstellar travel and there is a strong balance between the compositions’ coexisting needs for aggression and groove. The songs often return to more straightforward textures every time there is a risk of getting too spaced out, yet the band doesn’t feel like it is holding itself back. Fans of ballsy stoner rock should gravitate to it instantly.