Stellar Remains – Wastelands EP


The Australian extreme metal scene is one of the most innovative in the global underground. Its focus centres around Sydney and the Brilliant Emperor record label, but Brisbane also has its fair share of artists, most of them related to Brendan Auld in some way through outfits such as Snorlax, Feculent, Descent and Hebephrenique. This time Auld takes a step back from writing to produce, mix and engineer the debut EP from a new prodigy – Dan Elkin. The name of this project is Stellar Remains, and it’s a progressive death metal odyssey that will dazzle you like an equinox.

Dan Elkin understands that to create an exciting death metal record demands two things – it cannot be cold and technical, and it must not be devoid of life. This means taking chances and exploring tangents that might go nowhere. But at least they go somewhere. A volume swell of humming guitar distortion plucks at a stubborn arpeggio in ‘Ceaseless Charade of the Living Dead’ as if unable to escape its trepid state. A dissonant whisp of guitar battles with a keyboard melody but ends in a stalemate between the two. And yet it dares to be different. So does ‘Obsolescence’. As a follow-up song, it sees black metal guitars fight with off-kilter drums and frenzied vocals in an orgy of violence. Elkin’s voice is ripe with anger and transcendent pain. Melodies appear sporadically but with great effect. The downward crunch of the riffing towards the end is heavy enough to give you lockjaw. Think of a blackened death metal version of Mastodon with layers revealing themselves like rogue sleeper cells as the song progresses.

Is there a greater paradox than demanding life in a death metal paradigm? That’s what we experience here. ‘Weeping on the Shoulder of a Memory’ sounds like the desperate pleas of a man trying to bribe the guard holding him captive on behalf of a sinister agency. This is death metal of the contemplative mind. The guitars are not discordant for reasons of indulgence or to satisfy a technical urge to avoid pentatonic shapes. Imagine them more of an analogy for the tortured mind. 

Everything is so organic and fluid but not effortless – that would be a misdirected accusation of complacency that has no merit. Just because an artist makes something look so easy, does not mean that it is. The title-track combines sublime guitar picking with ethereal e-bow shapes that breeze in the mix like decapitated flowers in the meadow. Yet Elkin cannot trust this serenity for too long. He always finds a way of expressing the turbulence in his mind – this yin and yang approach brings great satisfaction to the listener. Here, a female backing vocalist whispers in the background like a portal to a better world that will always elude the protagonist. A melodic black metal anxiety throbs through the amps in closing track, ‘Cloudbearer’, with a concealment of brighter textures that hope to form into something more important. They never find a resolution, but that’s deliberate. Prog metal fans will delight in immersing themselves in this song. Listen to the superb interplay of guitars in the intro as if the axes can speak to each other in a coded language.

Elkin calls this sci-fi metal. It plays up to the imagination with little effort on the listener’s part. Surely, that is the main triumph of this debut EP.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 15/02/2024

Record Label: Gutter Prince Cabal Records

Standout tracks: Obsolescence, Cloudbearer

Suggested Further Listening: Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits of Doomed Escape (2020), Mastodon – Remission (2002), Aquilus – Bellum I (2021)