I’m not sure what this says about me, but I like Astpai’s Burden Calls just fine but it takes until they pull a sample from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original) to hit that next level. It has little to nothing to do with the actual songs, but somehow it shifts the tone and the energy just picks up at “Death Everywhere” after Master Splinter’s sage words.
The band has a strong ‘90s tone. Think melodic hardcore like Good Riddance but with gruff vocals a la No Idea Records bands. There are big melodic hooks with dramatic and sweeping melodies. The vocals are piled atop and hoarse, shouting into a dark void. All in all, without consulting a lyric sheet, there’s a dark feel to this compared with the aforementioned references. The songs are built on plodding progressions and those soaring melodies culminate in a gigantic roar. It’s a technique repeated throughout the record.
That reuse of form doesn’t hinder but it does tend to make the songs blur together more than they should. Movie clips serve to break that similarity and it works for a few seconds, but it’s a cheater course of action that doesn’t work over the whole record. I like what I hear in the band, with the angry choral shouting in “Single Use:” “Talking ‘bout our degeneration!” to the temporary whoa-oh moment of “Oxygen,” but it’s also a style that really calls for the band to stand out from the crowd. Astpai is on the verge with their vocal tones and chaotic peaks, but it never fully forms into an album of varied songs. When they do mix up the tempos, as in “Departure,” it really highlights those melodic influences from the ‘90s. When they slow it down, as in “Careers,” vocalist Zock sounds a touch like Nothington. The music, however, is far more dynamic and soaring than that band; it is a vocal resemblance only.
I think Astpai could release an outstanding EP, but on their fifth full-length, it tends to run together at 35 minutes total. Burden Calls is really sitting on the edges of being a great record, though it ultimately pulls up at simply “pretty good,” losing its way when the band ventures from their strengths.
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