Failure of Humankind – A Review of ‘The Future Is Dark’ by Stellar Descent

The promo for US duo Stellar Descent‘s fourth album The Future Is Dark arrived in my inbox quite some time ago. Months, in fact. It was the first time I’d ever had the pleasure of hearing them and after a few spins I deliberately held off on checking out anything else they’ve released until I could write this piece, for one simple reason: This is a band I can see myself obsessing over, and if I’d started a deeper dive and their other work was anything like this, it would be game over.

Which is all well and good, but why did it take me so long to even put pen to paper about this album? Another simple reason: I find it… overwhelming, for want of a better word. One single 46 minute long song could easily be considered intense for and by anybody but the mere length of it is not what has been holding me back, more the content and devastating execution. I’ve found it almost impossible to perform a technical analysis of the album. I keep periodically returning to it and all it does is blow me away with a greater gust of gale-force emotion every time.

Stellar Descent, in corporeal form, has been active since 2010 and as of recently is comprised of two sentient beings: Anthony on guitar/drums and Jon on bass, with the pair sharing vocal duties between them. They also appear to be extreme pessimists. On The Future Is Dark they realise that due to the nature of humanity our future both on this planet and as a species is completely and utterly fucked beyond all chance of repair; there’s no glass-half-full, either in their sound or message. There’s no hope, because we won’t fix it. Moving through the immense structures of their composition reveals an experience akin to hearing the cracking open of the very Earth itself.

An Earth tortured and tormented, broken under the weight of what we have done to it. A mankind tearing itself and its own home apart. They conjure this affect in subtly stunning fashion: The music itself (beautifully mixed and mastered by Déhá of Yhdarl, who does a superb job) is startling, layered guitar melodies both drone and soar in yearning torment while the drums act as a pulse that quickens and slows as if reacting to the throes of deep pain. The vocals are unlike much I’ve heard of late as they represent a near constant howl of distant suffering; the way they sit just breaking through the maelstrom, there’s often no discernable break and they become almost elemental. It’s like you’re tuning in to the hidden sound frequency of the natural world… and it is screaming in perpetual agony.

And then, we come to the sheer magnitude of the entire composition. Extended bursts of transcendent bleak intensity scattered with moments of ambient introspection, fleeting as ash on the wind before the storm whips up anew. This type of longform black metal done well simply begs total immersion; you’re helplessly tossed at the mercy of its ebbs and flows as over time, an almost trancelike state begins to take hold. You move with the sway, vibrate on the same level. Your mind becomes one with the misery, aches in the calm. It feels like you could be moved to breaking down as you’re forced to consider the plight of humanity. Far from the traditional black metal hate that you may expect from a release like this, this is black metal that touches you. You emerge at the other side of this experience irrevocably changed.

Blah blah blah, he’s just overhyping the album, you say. Writers these days just pump shit up for the sake of it. I’m really not, although admittedly I can see how for many people this wouldn’t be their deal. For me however it represents the primal scream of a delicate harmony long shattered, a ledger too long in the red… I find it more emotionally draining than the vast majority of what passes for DSBM these days. I get the feeling this will be one of the most criminally underrated releases of the year from a band that will always also be criminally underrated. Well, fuck it. They have a new fan in me.

Released today through Sol Y Nieve.


Purchase Stellar Descent‘s ‘The Future Is Dark‘ digitally from Bandcamp here, or on CD and cassette from Sol Y Nieve here.

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