Album Review: The Astral Cadence | Paradigm
What’s going on #IntoThePitUniverse? We’re moshing our way into another album review and this time we’re taking it back to 2018’s debut release from the metal collective, The Astral Cadence. Based out of New York City, New York, the instrumentalist took their place in the metal archives with their debuting LP, Paradigm. The debut of a band is their first impression to the world and is often riddled with crippling pressure to provide an even better followup. Our hat’s are off for the members of The Astral Cadence for successfully doing what many only dream of. In return for gracing the world with their musical talent’s, we at #IntoThePit want to provide our feedback on the project in hopes of providing value for future endeavors. If you’re a metal fan reading this, I’m hoping you gain a new perspective on the different aspects of music, not just in the genre written about on this site, but any genre you’re into. If you’re ready, time to get thrown #IntoThePit!
Let’s dive in.
The production of Paradigm from a categorical standpoint primarily caters towards the realm of progressive metal. Albeit, there are some thrashy, even grungy phrases that the band toys arounds with, but as a whole, the progressive and rhythmic moments are showcased the best throughout the project. Listeners can expect the traditional metallic instruments of choice used for the majority of Paradigm, in addition to some synthetic elements such as soft choirs, pad synths, etc. Hardly ever did any of the synthetic elements make it to the forefront as a lead, leaving most of the synth performance as an added texture to the soundscape. Transitions between phrases that harbored minor or diminished chord progressions exponentially enhanced the emotions of the universe being created. This is a great time to mention how well The Astral Cadence balances those darker harmonic phrases. On a scientific level, darker chord progressions like minors, when performed well will stimulate a separate area of the listener’s brain primarily associated with darker emotions like sadness, grief, or anger. By accomplishing this proficiently, immersing myself into the musical world of Paradigm was fairly easy on the multiple listening devices used.
Once immersed into the scene being orchestrated, I just wanted to enjoy the ride. The easiest element my ears we able to cling onto were the tom rolls of drummer, Bill Angelini. His toms maintained a presence that was full and consistently tight throughout every track. At times the toms were acting as though they were tossing the music back and forth. They were definitely the most entertaining element to listen to. Other pieces of Angelini’s set were present but lacked certain energy which could’ve been enhanced in the mixing of the project. For example, the snare drum of the project was tight and fairly punchy, but it lacked character lending towards depth. In terms of production, it may have been the actual head selection of the drum or even the type of sticks being used. It could’ve very well been the microphone technique used by the recording engineer when tracking the snare. Typically snares have a mic on top at an angle to capture the initial hit and “pop” of the stick hit while in tandem a bottom microphone below to capture the body and fullness of the drum and it’s snare resonance. Looking beyond that it could’ve very well been the mix of the record which is something we’ll cover in the following section. Regardless, Bill Angelini held the rhythmic progressions together for his melodic counterparts over the length of the album. Searching for alternative snare or sticking options are a simple fix to enhance the depth of the drum.
Speaking of melodic counterparts, guitarist Sean Washington held the weight of the lead role player on his shoulders for the majority of this record. Although eloquently executed, there were moments when the energy of his sonic performance felt replicated from the track before or from another track on the album. Using the same guitar as well as using similar settings on one’s pedal board can place a player in this sonic trap. There are good and bad reasons a guitarist would find themselves in this scenario but usually on a debut album, I’d prefer to hear differentiating lead guitar tones and texture’s between tracks in an effort to match the musical vibe of the moment. This gives listeners and other musicians an opportunity to be smitten by a track for it’s own individuality. Characterizing distortion, phasing, chorus, and delay effects all play a huge role in how well said instrument conforms to the atmosphere surrounding it. The sonic texture of one’s instrument can be treated by the mixing engineer, but more often than not guitarist and bassist take on the responsibility of treating their instrument directly from their pedal boards. For future projects, liberate the creative horizons by cycling through and dabbling in different tones and guitar characteristics. Maybe treat yourself to a new axe specifically for the next project and bring out the previous one to diversify your sound! There are a few different ways to accomplish this, the goal here is simply preventing stagnation across the album.
Bassist, Dennis Lars Torrent had an exceptional debut performance as well. Providing quality low end support for a sustained period of time showcases the true talent of an individual. The only thing I would recommend for Torrent would be similar to the recommendation for Washington in diving deeper into differentiating tonalities through settings on your pedal board or in collaboration with the mixing engineer. If you wanted to use the entirety of your sophomore album to experiment in that regards, whether fans receive it well or not, the value will be in learning what works really well and what doesn’t. As a whole, for a debuting album, Paradigm ranks well on our production meter with plenty of room for growth with future releases.
Production Score: 3.8/5
Into The Mix:
The mix for Paradigm had it’s moments of mundane repetitiveness along with it’s moments of melodic bliss. Earlier I spoke of the mixing characteristics of the snare drum. Done well is the level of “pop” from the compression of the snare allowing it to cut through the mix. From an engineering standpoint, my biggest concern is in the depth of the snare’s body. There’s a lack of weight, and power that I’m craving from the impact of the hit and I’m detecting that this could’ve been avoided by a slightly different mixing approach. Prior to the mix, placing extra gain to the bottom snare mic or even choosing a microphone with a heavier mid – low frequency response is a way of correcting this issue with future projects.
In regards to the lead guitar sounding too similar from track to track, this is another area that a mixing engineer can greatly influence. Sean Washington’s fingering and progressions are top tier for a band at this stage in their career, but the lack of sonic ingenuity between songs creates a disconnect from a critics perspective. On the other side of that token, listeners and fans who are just in it to jam and listen to badass riffs may be fully satisfied with the overall performance. We all know music is subjective and in an effort to provide value and inspire growth, I feel it’s best to shed light on these areas of opportunity.
Also mentioned earlier, The Astral Cadence does a superior job of showcasing it’s melodic and progressive prowess. Half of the work of creating this atmosphere is competently achieved by the album’s mix. Deciding on the correct stereo placement, compression settings, echoing delays, and reverbs are almost as imperative as the masterful playing itself. The mix of a record harnesses the power to bring the listener into a world of sheer unadulterated emotion, even if it’s momentarily. In listening back the the mix on Paradigm, I was throughly satisfied with it’s layer of depth created by the mix for most of the album. Synthetic instruments were mixed in subtly creating a spacey layer. The guitar and bass meshed great with it’s percussive counterparts to enhance the high impact motifs being performed. As a whole, I was happy about the mix of the Paradigm LP, regardless of the few shortcomings that stuck out.
Mix Score: 3.7/5
A Mastered Experience:
Having been on both ends of the mastering process, there’s one thing that I look for when critiquing a mastered record or project..
Can I listen to this project from top to bottom and it sound cohesive all the way through?
When comparing the master of Paradigm to that of top tier bands such as Slayer, Lamb of God, Metallica, and other groups in this iconic category, it’s clear to hear where this master is lacking. The bright side is that this is only The Astral Cadence’s debut album. Peaking out too early leaves very little room to exceed future expectations anyways. An average sounding master at this stage should only motivate a band to achieve higher standards in coming projects.
The master does a great job of providing lower mid range presence allowing for the kick drum, toms, and bass guitar to be felt as much as heard. The upper-mid and higher frequencies of the record are aptly present but lack a certain “shimmery” feel that is desirable in a mastered record. Think of it along the terms of wanting to hear the album breathe. Typically this is achieved by opening up the 15k – 20k frequency band and often enhancing the harmonics beyond it. During softer more progressive phrases, it’s easier to receive this desired “open” sensation, but more difficult when everyone’s playing at a forte´ in volume. Quality limiting and equalization provides that “open”, “shimmery” feel to the higher frequencies while simultaneously enabling the mid and low frequencies to provide power and weight support for the low end. Aiming to successfully achieve both of these aspects of the master in future projects should be the goal for the next mastering engineer. To return and answer our main mastering question, yes, this project does sound cohesive from top to bottom. Albeit, this is a safe master, it’s successful in creating a starting foundation for the group.
Master Score: 3.5/5
In closing, I’d like to take a moment to inform the members of The Astral Cadence that their talents are apparent throughout this album, and the musical effort placed into this record was well received. For a debut album, Paradigm is an LP to be proud of. Many aspects of this record were proficiently performed and at the end of the day the music will speak for itself. Listeners and future fans of this group will find many reasons to become fond of the album. Paradigm also gives listeners a reason to be excited for it’s follow up. Any shortcomings highlighted in this review should be seen as areas of opportunity and inspiration to absolutely demolish the next album. To self-distribute a long form project in this day and age is still an impressive feat regardless of the presence of social media. As a band, use this to your advantage and engage with those who are actually listening to you. Figure out what they enjoyed on this project, and what fell short of the mark for them. Use that fuel for a sophomore album that rivals that of the iconic bands of the genre. If that is the approach taken by the group, I can whole heartedly say that me and the #IntoThePitUniverse are more than anxious to hear what’s coming down the road. In final, Congratulations to The Astral Cadence on the successful release of their debut album! Until next time, #IntoThePitUniverse.