With bands like Isis and Neurosis pushing the boundaries of metal into the stratosphere of prog and space-rock, the line between arthouse and mosh pit has grown increasingly blurry. Philadelphia quartet Rosetta embody this newfound spirit of chaos and creativity, adding a healthy dose of experimental songwriting technique and vigilant sound manipulation to the already heady world of art-metal.
The group's debut outing is as auspicious as they come: a double-disc, two hour exploration of the musical theories that separate metallic bombast from pompous self-indulgence. The scope of The Galilean Satellites' ambition is on a par with Cave In's Until Your Heart Stops or Mogwai's Young Team, and its fusion of black hole ambiance and thunderstruck metallic fury will resonate with everyone from metalcore roughnecks to doom-metal snobs. The notion of space-metal itself isn't all that revolutionary -- many bands (Hopesfall, Idiot Pilot and Nora La Rebelde among them) have adopted similar methodologies, but have fallen flat on their faces due to poor execution and general lack of ideas. In that regard, Rosetta's true talent lies in combining dexterous playing and songwriting chops with fantastically Orwellian visions of the lunar realms toward which metal is heading.
The lens through which Rosetta view metal is fantastically cracked, and listening to the terse build-ups and photon-blowing climaxes in tracks like "Itinerant" and "Ross 128", you can't help but feel like an outsider staring in through fogged glass. "Deneb" feels like a slow-motion torture transmission, and "Beta Aqualie" descends into calculated madness. The entire song-cycle is loosely conceptual, but its narrative thread remains almost alarmingly detached -- the fictional "space man", vacillating between psychological orbits in his mythical quest to reach the sun (embodied by massive set closer "Sol"). His is a journey of catharsis and misconception, and he is a frightened soldier on a solo mission that he was never meant to complete -- a broken soul set adrift on an endless lunar sea, left to die cold and alone. It's beautiful and harrowing stuff -- often both at once.
The Galilean Satellites' two-plus hour running time makes it a massive pill to swallow. If the album has an Achilles heel, it's its lack of focus: luxuriant quarter-hour songs like "Absent" and "Au Pays Natal" could easily be edited down, their aural fat trimmed to create eight minute blasts of lean muscle. Still, it seems counterproductive to chide Rosetta for being overly ambitious -- especially when so many of their peers are content to pander to the status quo for as long as they can.