I first made mention of the one-man experimental metal madness that is The Sun Through a Telescope as a band to look out for back in 2011, when Bandcamp was just beginning to worm its way into the hearts and minds of metalheads. While those early TSTAT releases skewed toward corrosive, feedback-drenched drone, the project took a drastic step forward later on that year with the release of the Summer Darkyard EP, which saw mainman Lee Neutron beginning to incorporate elements of black metal and electronic/industrial music into its apocalyptic framework. But even that massive evolutionary leap couldn’t prepare me for the all-out insanity of I Die Smiling, which is not only TSTAT’s first full length release but also Herr Neutron’s most compelling and cohesive work to date.
The first thing you notice about I Die Smiling is that it is the most conventionally metal-sounding thing TSTAT has done thus far, but this is metal that’s been filtered through Neutron’s warped musical lens; imagine Justin Broadrick getting dosed with a shitload of LSD by Today is the Day’s Steve Austin at a black metal show and you’re getting close to the psychosis that the opening trio of tracks “You Can’t Kill Me” “Everyday is Like Black Hole Svnday” and “Mr Yawning Infinity Chasm / Superinfinity” bring to the table. These songs represent TSTAT at its most accessible, and yet they’re still noisy, trippy and heavy as all Hell. They’re also extremely textured and nuanced; Neutron somehow managed to capture this chaos in the studio and whip it into something coherent, which speaks volumes about his skill as both a producer and a songwriter, and with a little help from his friends Topon Das (Fuck the Facts) and James Plotkin (O.L.D., Khanate, Khlyst, etc) in the engineering and mastering departments respectively, the results sound f’n fantastic.
But just when you think Neutron has steered TSTAT away from its roots in pure Earth 2-esque drone, along comes the rumbling, crumbling ambience of the title track, which gives way to the epic “Werewolf Weather,” a twenty-plus minute beast that builds from droning synths and manipulated samples (which I believe are taken from Paradise Lost) into plodding ultra-doom. “It, Still” sounds like field recordings from the depths of a dimly-lit dungeon, and might ultimately be one of the album’s most unsettling tracks, its quiet menace disrupted by the distorted growls of the damned erupting out of the mix. The album lumbers to a close with the sludgy instrumental “The Bitten,” bringing I Die Smiling full circle with a more structured piece and ending things on a frightfully heavy note.
I Die Smiling is a consistently bizarre, harrowing release that benefits greatly from Neutron’s singularly demented vision. It proudly stands out like a sore thumb amidst the avalanche of sound-alike metal hordes, hearkening back to a time when even the most extreme albums were comprised of songs that each had their own distinct character and took the listener on a deep, dark trip through the mind of the artist. If you missed out on this one in 2013, I strongly recommend you double back and give it a listen, because it’s among the most flat-out unique heavy music releases of that year or any other.