Astres, the debut full length from French duo Epectase, manages to be both incredibly promising and a mite confounding all at once, often for the intertwining reasons. The record is absolutely sprawling in both style and length, covering several blackened and progressive styles while surpassing the 63-minute mark. This would be ambitious for a band with several years and albums under its belt; as a debut, it shows brass balls.
There’s a lot going on, and the album’s one real pitfall is that sometimes there is too much of a lot going on. Just about every song here could likely be trimmed a bit, as the shortest runs at a walloping 9 minutes and 39 seconds. The guiltiest track, however, is the aforementioned “Solar Winds / Climax,” the first part of which consists of about five minutes of sounds and sparse guitar lines that don’t really go anywhere. The “Climax” part could just has easily been attached to the preceding track with just as much effectiveness.
The counterpoint to any complaints about the record’s length is that other than that notable passage, it never feels disjointed, merely a tad meandering. If anything, the band always sounds as if they’re just allowing the songs to take them where they will, never rushing or abandoning the feel. From the natural tones to the performances, it really sounds like the work of a band playing live in a studio despite being the meticulous work of just two people. (A very audible and very dancing bass is a huge and very welcome element of this quality.) Even when transitioning from harsh black metal to the softest, most airy of prog parts, it feels earned.
Which brings us to the most impressive aspect: the transitions and relationships between sections. These five very long tracks are often built upon just a few basic motifs each, with Epectase making the slightest of tweaks throughout a song to tell an organic story. One of the best evolutions starts at about the 4-minute mark of penultimate song “La Dédale des Astres et des Âmes.” It spends a phrase or two hinting at a dark, melodic line before said line takes the reins and carries the next several passages in various forms. It’s eventually warped into something befitting of a blast beat foundation when the bass decides to mirror the original melody (and then gets into some low end shred). It’s a gloriously effective series of slight adjustments and one of the best examples of Epectase’s considerable potential.
As stated, however, further realizing that potential will require some self-editing. There is always some risk to feel when trying to cut down on temporal sprawl, but if their best moments of are any indication, Epectase has the talent to thread that needle. Even with its inefficiencies, Astres is more than just a promising debut—there are both roots and fruits of ambition within.