Portland multi-instrumentalist, Andrew Stromstad, is a man of eclectic tastes and coherent vision. As the mastermind of the debut Box album, the Oregon resident accepts no limitations on his creative imagination. Why have musical boundaries when the sensible thing is to smash them in the name of innovation? Like King Gizzard and the Lizard Blizzard, Stromstrad is a man of many hats. Nothing can stop him if he wants to blast through a violent death metal song, nor will he edit his art if it needs to incorporate 1980s MOR rock, synth pop or darkwave elements. This should be a risky strategy, but it works wonders on Cherry Blossoms at Night.
Your ears will writhe under the euphoric agony of roaring death metal on opener, ‘Succumb’. Wow! This is how you visit the old school and paint it in the colours of an urgent undertaking. Listen to Stromstad alternate between ravenous growls and power metal theatrics as his guitar rhythms rip through the tremolo patterns like Deicide in their prime. It gives you even more reason to discard the plastic extremity of melodic death metal. Why bother with Arch Enemy and The Halo Effect when you can have the real thing? You brace yourself for a sequel on ‘Pulse’, but Stromstad changes his costume for a slice of sci-fi rock & roll coated in fuzzy guitar distortion. Now his voice commands a robotic monotone as if performing for a crowd of London goths at The Batcave circa 1984. Sporadic blast beats mingle with dramatic vocal harmonies that lie somewhere in between Gorillas and Kate Bush’s most hysterical works. The decision to end it with a speed metal extravaganza of Motörhead proportions only adds to its charms.
You’ll ask if the purpose is to present a different face for each song on Cherry Blossoms at Night after digesting ‘Soft is the Motion’. This is the experimental doom metal track of the record with clean space-effect guitar arpeggios giving way to crushing fifth chords and the majesty of a powerful baritone voice. The full diversity of the metal spectrum beckons at the halfway point, but Stromstad dives into his vinyl collection from the 1980s for inspiration. The title track sees a radical change to a darker synth-orientated sound with yet more expanding width to the vocal register. It’ll convince you that Depeche Mode and Daniel Miller have a long-lost song from the Black Celebration era hidden in their vaults when you hear the opening percussive samples. Of course, the logical thing would be to include a deep baritone in the mix, but Stromstad inserts the multi-harmony emotion of Foreigner and the piano-beat rock of REO Speedwagon into the equation. Sweden’s Loch Vostok are one of the few bands that could get away with this, yet it seems like an effortless enterprise here.
Perhaps the biggest strength of this album is its willingness to embrace musical eras that died out long ago. Is Stromstad being earnest or humorous in the way he mixes The Darkness with the prog rock of early Genesis on ‘Lifetaker’? It’s hard to believe that this record started out as an extreme metal tour de force by the time you get to ‘Spread’. The progressive synthwave dynamic thrives on a Cabaret Voltaire foundation of bouncing squelch bass splashed in the reverb-heavy guitars of Simple Minds. Though absurd, the flanger-effect vocals on closing track, ‘Liberate’, remind you that Hall and Oates were stellar songwriters of their day. There is simply nothing like this in the contemporary rock and metal scene.
Cherry Blossoms at Night is a dark ironic masterpiece that will make you laugh and stroke your chin in equal measures. Its creator has multiple personalities but an abundance of talent and a cogent handle on the execution of his musical vision. This is a costume drama you cannot miss.
Release Date: 29/07/2022
Record Label: Miserable Pyre of Secrets
Standout tracks: Succumb, Cherry Blossoms at Night, Spread
Suggested Further Listening: The Chronicles of Manimal and Samara – Trust No Leaders (2022), Depeche Mode – Black Celebration (1986), Loch Vostok – Opus Ferox – The Great Escape (2021)