Band: Flesh of the Stars
Album: Mirror/Vessels EP
Genre: Doom Metal / Progressive Rock
Country: United States
Release Date: March 5, 2021
For fans of: Pallbearer, YOB, Pink Floyd
“Underrated” is a term that should not be thrown around lightly. If you’re prepared to claim that (in the context of music) a certain artist is not getting enough attention or popularity, you should back this claim up with a strong argument – why is this particular band worthy of wider recognition? If this claim rests simply upon your personal tastes, its value doesn’t go beyond plain opinion, i.e. everyone’s got one, and by themselves they’re not worth jack. Acknowledging that a lot of my personal taste is involved in this opinion, I readily claim that Flesh of the Stars, a band that to the best of my knowledge is still fully DIY, should have labels fighting each other to sign them and big festivals doing everything to get them on board. Yet they’re still a relatively unknown band from Chicago with pithy plays on streaming services. That a band with such a unique genre-bending sound and compositional talent abound is lavishing in obscurity is simply criminal.
Flesh of the Stars released their first record “Hide” in 2015, followed by “Hosanna” the next year. It was competently executed doom metal, seemingly nothing out of the ordinary, but with a lingering notion that the band is capable of more than they’re letting on. And they let it on with 2017’s “Anhilla” which was nothing short of a masterpiece. Seven numerically titled songs plus a prologue and epilogue, which might as well have been a single long song, blasted away the confining walls of doom metal and flourished through the detritus with strands of progressive rock, psychedelia and ambient. An entrancing 40-minute trip, laden with aptly used analog synths, to be listened through no less than in one sitting, ebbs and flows with otherworldly melancholia, knowing perfectly when to lull with soothing melodies, when to stir by ushering back the might of doom metal and when to plateau with psychedelic jams. This album won them the designation of “Pink Floyd but doom” for the stylistic similarities and affinities but also as a flattering comparison of compositional excellence. In 2019 they followed up with “Mercy” which was a further refinement of the style, presenting an album whose full emotional profile metal bands struggle to sustain even for brief moments. It was not just an affirmation of FOTS’s marriage between doom metal and prog rock, but a statement that they don’t really need genre labels, mastering a sound that’s entirely their own (I kinda had trouble filling in the For fans of sections of this review).
And now, FOTS presents us the Mirror/Vessels EP. At a 30-minute runtime, they could’ve labelled it a full album, but they possess enough wisdom to signalize that this is not their standard record, rather one where they decided to experiment and see where they can take their sound. The most apparent sign of this is the “alternative versions” of the two title tracks sandwiched between them. Yet they’re only provisionally alternative as they sound little like the originals, being instead full-on analog synth compositions with “Mirror (Electronic Realization)” being a more structured atmospheric piece with calm melodies driven by a rhythmic deep moog, and “Vessels (Sinking Realization)” being more of a buzzing drone piece. I know that not many people have patience for such interruptions with what they might deem electronic wankery, but they overall comprise about a quarter of the record, and besides you’re free to skip them. However, if you do have an interest in synth compositions, I believe you’ll find they can fit nicely in the overall structure of the record, as sort of alternative emotional renditions of the originals.
But let’s get to the meat and potatoes. Opening “Mirror” and closing “Vessels” are two standard yet quite solid FOTS tracks that still try stand out as their own thing. “Mirror” for example gradually builds to a level of intensity in the second half that is probably unmatched in FOTS’s discography, with shouted and even growled vocals exchanging with layered female chants on a plain of heavy plodding riffage. Overall, the song is hauntingly dark, again unlike most of the rest of their works. After projecting the listener towards non-physical realms with the two electronic tracks, FOTS returns with “Vessels” which unlike its partner is wistful yet optimistic, most noted in the now hopeful-sounding vocal performance. Starting as a soft prog-rock song, it slowly builds towards its peak, ramping up the drums, introducing crunchy riffs and overall condensing the flow. A moment of calm, a piano-led segue, a psych-prog-doom medley, all seamlessly interwoven in “Vessels’” paths towards its peak, ending with a final cathartic vocal performance and closing with sounds of the wind.
Flesh of the Stars have proven themselves as more than just competent songwriters time and time again and here they affirm that they have the talent to compose at a level populated by the most accomplished progressive rock groups. Yet they’re not mere classic prog rock imitators. I don’t think there’s a band that ‘progs’ with such proficiency yet brilliantly combines it with loud and powerful doom metal production. Flesh of the Stars is a wholly unique band and like I said, their lack of popularity is a crime. I hope the readers of these review are at this point convinced that they should participate in remedying this injustice. “Mirror/Vessels” can serve as a good first listen of the band, provided you don’t mind synth excursions. However, I’d say you’re better of starting with “Mercy” and even “Anhilla” is not a bad choice. You won’t regret it, trust me.
2. Mirror (Electronic Realization)
3. Vessels (Sinking Realization)
Total Playing Time: 30:00