Astronoid's 'Air' Is the Happiest Dream Thrash Record You'll Ever Hear
This Boston troupe's new album for Blood Music is a joyful mishmash of thrash, prog, shoegaze, and even pop-punk —just the way they like it.
Photo by MeiLing Loo / From left to right: Casey Aylward, Dan Schwartz, Brett Boland, Matt St. Jean, Mike DeMellia
When "dream thrash" five-piece Astronoid first released the title track from their debut full-length album, Air, the band expected a bit of hostility from metal fans—but instead encountered straight-up vitriol.
“The first comment on Youtube was, ‘Wow, this sucks,’ ” recalls vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Brett Boland. “And I was like, ‘Wow, here we go,’ because it’s different, and it’s really pushing that pop limit, at least in the melody aspect of it. It’s for the people who just wanted a little more, something different than metal. That’s what I wanted,” he says.
And that’s what Air is — a buoyant mix of metal, thrash, punk, prog-rock and shoegaze, all coexisting quite naturally. The album (which follows the Stargazer and November EPs) shreds hard, then lets you breathe in healing, melancholic guitar notes and later, without breaking a sweat, flows on relentless blastbeats. Above this glorious fray of noise and commanding guitar solos ride soaring, lush vocals, always high above the clouds, yet close enough to feel its emotions.
Air is out now (digitally on Bandcamp, and physically via Blood Music), and to celebrate the release, Brett talked to Noisey about his influences, how it feels to step out from behind the kit, and why it’s okay for metal to sometimes be—dare we say it—happy.
Noisey: Is Air a direct continuation of your earlier EPs Stargazer and November, or did you start from scratch?
Brett Boland: It’s sort of like an offshoot. We seemed to have come across this odd, really happy, shoegaze-y, black metal-y thrash thing that I can’t really put a name on. We took that idea and put it in a major key and expanded upon it. But it wasn’t on purpose. That just happened.
Were you ever interested in other genres or has it always been metal?
When I was really young my dad would listen to a lot of Elton John and Supertramp and Steely Dan. So I started there, and then he bought Metallica’s Reload. And I was like nine when it came out, and it was the heaviest thing I ever heard. And I decided to get Ride the Lightning because of the cover. I was pretty young, and it blew my face off. I had no clue what was happening. Being the impressionable child I was, I wasn’t ready for Ride the Lightning.
But from then on, it was all metal. But I love everything. I love happy music, I love rockin’ out to Def Leppard and Mew and all this stuff that you can sing along to, and I also love diving into Emperor and bands like Gadget and weird, super grindy black metal stuff. I’m a huge punk fan. I love NOFX, No Use For a Name, Alkaline Trio, pop punk. I love it all.
I did notice the pop-punk aspect in Air.
Yeah, that was supposed to stay hidden. No one’s supposed to hear that part. No, it’s fine [laughs]. I was like ‘Well, I hope people don’t hear this,’ in the metal community. But it’s there. I cannot deny it. It is 100 percent there. I love that stuff.
Do you ever get negativity from listeners who say, ‘That’s not metal’?
Being a fan of metal, I agree with them. It’s kind of not. And I’ve been around [a lot of metalheads], especially black metal fans, and they’re very protective of it. I’m totally cool with that, snd they don’t have to listen to Astronoid. We’re not planning to be black metal or any of that stuff. We’re trying something new… it doesn’t get to me when people don’t like it.
Did you do most of the songwriting on Air?
I wrote all of the songs except for “Homesick.” Dan Schwartz wrote that one. It’s like the best one. I can feel that he wrote it. It has his character in it and his musical style. And it still really fits the record. When we came off Stargazer, it was tough to navigate. Everyone just started throwing songs in, and a lot of them didn’t make it. We overwrote for the record. We have like 15, 16 songs for the record.
Do you think the band will release them?
I feel like we kind of have to get our footing before we test the waters with the other ones. I would love to just put ‘em out. I always love hearing those weird B-sides.
Do other members contribute backing vocals?
That all stems from my love of Def Leppard. That bridge in “Foolin’ ”gets me every time. And it’s just layered vocals, but I just love that and I wanted that. But I did sing all of them, which I’m pretty proud of. I grew a lot between Stargazer and this one.
So you’re getting more comfortable with being out front.
I’ve drummed in more bands than I’ve played guitar in. I’m just used to being back there and hiding behind my kit and just thrashing away. But now I’m much better. Everyone looks to me. Nobody cares about the drummer. I care about the drums though. I’m always for the drummer [laughs].
The drummer is the backbone; you need to have the drummer.
The drummer’s the most important. Always. He’s the only musician in the band. We’re gonna start a revolution for the drummers.
When is Astronoid going to tour?
Oh, that. That question. We are currently working on our post-release plans. When we do, it’s gonna be awesome. I’m really excited about how everything is sounding. Everyone’s just crushing it. I can’t wait to play. Before we played our first show we were a band for a year. We basically practiced for a year, just four songs I think it was, then we had two songs that we played live that didn’t make the album. I plan on putting those out.
What are those two songs called?
Oh man. It is Song 3 and Song 5. Every song has a number when we were writing, and no one could remember what the songs were. So we would be like, 'All right let’s play Song 3' and half the band would start “2” and the other half would play “6,” and then no one knew. And then I started naming the songs so they would remember, and then no one could remember the names of the songs. It was a mess. It was pretty fun.
So “Obsolete” would have been Song 12 maybe?
“Obsolete” was actually Song 2. I think that was the second song I wrote for the album. And that was one of the weird ones that I wasn’t sure about. That’s one of my favorite songs on the album. Casey’s solo rips, and I really love the vocals. I’m just happy in general with that one. Dan’s bass — I hope people notice it, but that bass lick in the middle is just so tasty.
The whole album kicks ass.
The demo name for the song “Air” was called “Happy.”
Oh, no. Really?
We didn’t keep that name.
It was funny. It’s a happy record. We know it is. We’re not gonna shy away from that. I was really scared about that one for a while, just due to the mixing process. But it ended up being another banger that I really love.
But overall, you’re saying, ‘it’s OK for metal to be happy.’
Metal doesn’t have to be bumming, you know. I certainly love it when it is, but I love it when it’s happy too. Devin Townsend is a huge inspiration, just because he does whatever the hell he wants and it’s good. There’s no fun in writing music if you’re not doing it your own way. I don’t want to sound like anybody – not because I don’t want to sound like other bands that I like, but I want to do my own thing.
Emily Reily is up and atom on Twitter.