SCARDUST — Strangers (review)

SCARDUST — Strangers album cover Album · 2020 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
This review was originally written for RateYourMusic, but I decided to then move it to the Progarchives, now I've decided to copy the review here to the Metalmusicarchives. The review was initially formatted for RYM, so it may look a little unusual here, and I made some minor changes to actual score and the reasons behind it (I had a whole section on the individual track ratings, which doesn't exist on the Metalmusicarchives, so I removed it, plus some other changes). The review still gets its message across here though!

Let me preface by saying that Israel has a very strong progressive metal scene, and it's quite distinguishable, too as many of the bands have influenced one another separately from the larger European and American prog scenes, due to the country's isolation from them. It's similar to how Japan's progressive metal scene has a very distinct sound due to the country's distance from Europe/America. Many Israeli artists work closely with each other, and it's a very tightly knit group of musicians with a local fanbase small enough that the artists often recognize their fans by name/appearance - metal is still quite underground in Israel. With that said, Scardust really seems to be leading the pack at the moment, and this is especially noticeable now due to their recent performance at Wacken. While Orphaned Land is still Israel's largest metal act, they're in a whole different ballpark as the rest of the prog metal in the country, predating the majority of them and actually acclaiming mainstream (by metal standards) success and playing a different style of prog (although even they seem to be heading in the same direction as the rest of the Israeli underground prog scene), but I digress. With Scardust, they epitomize the eclectic theatrical sound for which Israeli prog is known.

Think "Disney metal;" I've heard people call them that before - very upbeat and theatrical with a wide array of influences in a cohesive, yet diverse package. What Scardust has that other Israeli prog metal acts haven't seemed to quite develop yet is refinement - that is a completely polished and confident sound that belongs to them, and them alone.

Edit - 2023 revision: Speaking of "Disney metal," well, well, well... I have just the surprise for any metalhead Disney fan :) You can thank me later:

The brains of Scardust largely belong to Noa Gruman and Orr Didi, both classically trained musicians who studied together at performing arts school. Noa claims to have been singing since before she began speaking, and from the beginning of the band's career Noa has proven to be quite a special singer, with many fans comparing her to the greats, such as Floor Jansen (under whom she studied for a while) and Simone Simons. Orr Didi, on the other hand, has been called a musical genius by many people with whom he has worked, including but not limited to Patty Gurdy, who makes an appearance on this album (more about that below). While Orr mostly handles the compositions, Noa mostly handles arrangements and lyrics, with input from other band members of course.

Now for some background information about the album. In 2017 Scardust completed their crowdfunding campaign for their debut album Sands of Time and recorded it and released it in the same year (and I was fortunate enough to attend the release concert as I was interning at an Israeli company that summer). This album was met with a very strong reception. In 2018, they promised to release an album within the next year, however, due to an intense touring schedule in 2019, they couldn't finish the recording before the end of the year. In 2019, they met Patty Gurdy and went on tour with her in the UK. During this period Noa and Patty would form a tight friendship with one another which would lead to them working together on various projects, and coincidentally, they both made an appearance on Ayreon's album Transitus and Alestorm's album Seventh Rum of a Seventh Rum. While the compositions and majority of the recording was done in 2019, including but not limited to Noa's trip to the UK to record a children's choir (she claims her flight was only $30 from Tel Aviv to England), they planned for the album to be released in early 2020, with a live show featuring Patty Gurdy to accompany it. Everyone knows what happened, however, in early 2020 with the pandemic situation. Mere days before Patty were to fly to Tel Aviv to play at the live show, record her parts of the album, and play in the music video for the song "Concrete Cages," on which she made her appearance, the flights between Israel and Germany (and the rest of the world for that matter) were cancelled and she was unable to come to Israel for the show. What she did manage to do, however, was play with Scardust live at their pre-release show in Tel Aviv via Zoom, and due to capacity limits at the venue because of the pandemic, they played a pair of shows side-by-side to accommodate all of their fans. She ended up recording her parts of the album at her home studio, while videochatting Noa, in tune to the rest of the world. It would not be until March 2022, two years later, that Patty would actually make her trip to Israel for the music video and a live show.

The Scardust members eventually had to pay for the recording of the album out-of-pocket, largely due to being unable to perform to fund it. The ironic part about all of this is that this album, "Strangers" is all about isolation and estrangement, something we all felt during these tumultuous times and a large chunk of this album had been recorded while the musicians were in isolation like the rest of the world. They were able to release the album in October of 2020, before the end of the year.

The album utilizes the musical concept of theme and variation, such that the album is based around the first musical theme with which it begins as a way to play on the theme of familiarity and estrangement. It started out as a classical piece originally recorded by Orr Didi back in 2017 ( The songs are organized in an arch form - that is the album consists of five pairs of songs and an overture. Each of these pair of songs were recorded as one long piece and separated at the end of the editing stages, then put on opposite ends of the album to create a familiar sounding second half of the album, as a way to keep better the listeners' attention. The album, therefore, may be listened to the way it is, or the songs could be listened in their pairs.

The pairs are organized as such:

Break the Ice............................................................................(Mist)

.....Tantibus II...............................................................(Addicted).....


...............Concrete Cages.......................................(Huts)...............



...............Huts.......................................(Concrete Cages)...............


.....Addicted..............................................................(Tantibus II).....

Mist............................................................................(Break the Ice)

Therefore, if you notice similarities between the songs within each pair, that was done deliberately. It is especially noticeable, in my opinion, with the Concrete Cages/Huts opus. I actually recommend listening to the album in both its official release order, first, and to each pair of songs as pairs, second. I think it helps enhance the experience.

Strangers is very modern sounding progressive metal album. It has a somewhat thick and layered guitar sound with fairly groovy riffs. The album uses a lot of modern classical, as well as other styles of western classical music, such as baroque, to create a very fanciful and sophisticated sound, that isn't as prevalent on prog today as it was 20 years ago. In this regard, despite the modern sound and production, Strangers takes us back to the era when classical-driven progressive metal reigned king. The largest influences at play here are obviously Symphony X, with the occasional neoclassical metal riffage and classical-oriented progression (as pointed out above), and Dream Theater, with very distant power metal roots and heavy use of pianos and occasional foray into avant-garde territory. I've heard people compare "Strangers" with Rush's "Moving Pictures," and I would agree with that due to similarities with the synthesizer/keyboard and bass. With the more modern sound of this album, Amaranthe comparisons may also be made due to the variety in the vocals (provided by a single woman, no less), and the pop sensibilities - especially on the song "Gone." I suppose Arch Enemy could also be a distant influence here, as well. As mentioned below, this album even crosses into Unexpect territory.

Now for the review:

"Strangers" is the best progressive metal album I'd heard in 10 years, since Israel's very own Orphaned Land released "The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR" in 2010. "Strangers" is cohesive and refined, yet eclectic and ambitious, while creating a brand new sound for itself that melds old school prog with modern prog. And when I say prog I mean progressive metal, not this pseduo-prog pro; that seems to be oh so common nowadays (which isn't necessarily bad, per say). The album showcases elements of celtic folk music, funk, modern classical, jazz, avant-garde metal, amongst other styles, wrapped within its progressive and symphonic metal exterior. All of these elements are brightly displayed in the opening overture.

Every member of the band here shines at one point or another. While many people would call Noa the star of the show, I personally would give that accolade to both Itai Portugaly's keyboard playing and Yanai Avnet's bass playing. How often is it that a band actually puts their bass player at the forefront of the mix? Scardust does and I love actually being able to hear what the bass player is doing. and on this album, he's doing some incredible things. The song "Gone," gives each member of the band a solo in which their strengths are sharply showcased. Noa, of course, showcases the variety of styles she can sing (in rapid succession at that). Yoav displays his ability to play polyrhythms with syncopation and provide a solid foundation for the band to play in odd time-signatures. Yadin displays his incredible virtuosity and ability to play with speed and style (his playing is distinct enough that I could recognize that he was the guitarist on Tillian's album "Lotus Graveyard"). Yanai displayed, also, his virtuosity, but also how well he can play grooves yet retaining a unique sound. Itai displays his incredibly dynamic and eclectic style that allows the band to be as diverse and multifaceted as they are, here. And by diverse and multifaceted, I mean I can make a dozen or so Unexpect comparisons here.

Lyrics on the other hand, are a bit harder with which to resonate. They are, in very Israeli style, not exactly... well subtle. Quite in your face, actually. I suppose for many European listeners, this may not be as much of a problem as we in the Anglosphere will perceive them. Due to the lyrical themes, which are nothing original - we've all heard the "we are isolated," etc. motif before - and can come across as cringeworthy, but if you're like me and don't care as much about the lyrics as the music itself, it's not so much of a problem as it just does not maximize the potential the band has to offer here. My only real complaint with the singing is the five seconds of rapping Noa does in "Over" and the fact that Noa is maybe a bit too technical and sometimes sounds like she's on autotune (and knowing Noa, she'll likely take that as a compliment), and we know she is not.

Unlike most prog (as mentioned above), nowadays, the songs here do not meander much, except for the tracks "Over" and "Under" which I think are the weakest points of the album.

The only true problem for me on the album is the mastering. While the Yonatan Kossov's mixing is very good - it's dynamic, clear, and the instruments stand out well, especially the bass, as pointed out above - I'm not a fan of how loud the mastering is. I've never been a fan of Jens Bogren, who provides the mastering here. Frankly, I wish most bands would stop hiring him as I feel he masters the music way too loud and as a result, they lose their dynamic range and becomes muddy and unclear. This is definitely the case here. At times, the music just seems needlessly loud and the otherwise great production job seems buried under the mediocre overlay that Jens has created here. This album clocks in at a DR of 7, which is better than a lot of other albums in this genre, but it still does sound a bit muddy at times (even Symphony X's "V - The New Mythology Suite," which is a very comparable album to this one, only has a DR of 6, yet somehow sounds better than "Strangers") - the best way to describe it, I suppose, is that the sound feels like it got constrained and can't project itself as well as it should; however, it is not as bad as Orphaned Land's "Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs" (which shares Hellscore as its choir [conducted by Noa herself] with "Strangers") which was actually mixed by Jens Bogren. With "Strangers" I absolutely can tell that the album was mastered by him due to his trademark sound, which I dislike.

Overall, this album is somewhere between a 4.0 and 4.5 - an easy 4.5 if not for the iffy mastering work here. While the tracks on their own aren't as incredible as the album as a whole, the cohesiveness of the album earns it extra points. Due to the fresh air this album breathes, and the impeccable musicianship here, I am giving it a 4.5 rating, despite the master from Jens DR 6 Bogren.

Ultimately, this album is a very strong recommendation for progressive metal fans, of both modern and old school. While "Sands of Time" was a tribute to Scardust's influences, combining the sound of Symphony X with Epica, predominately, "Strangers" displays the sound Scardust has crafted on their own.
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UMUR wrote:
1 year ago
Perfect for reading :-). I hope to see more reviews from you.
bardberic wrote:
1 year ago
there that's better :)
bardberic wrote:
1 year ago
I didn't realize the "paragraph form" didn't transfer here and it's just one big wall of text whoops... it looks fine on the progarchives. Let's see how to fix this...
UMUR wrote:
1 year ago
.Nice to see a new reviewer here on MMA :-) You are most welcome. Personally I´d prefer a few paragraphs for more easy reading, but that doesn´t take away from the fact, that it´s a well written and insightful review.


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