I first became aware of Australis in 2012 when I stumbled upon their second EP 2012. I was immediately drawn in by their fast and technical compositions that boasted a lot of memorable moments and I found that to be the case on their first EP Eidolon as well. One thing that stood out to me above everything else were the vocals supplied by Matthias Joyce. Joyce delivered an incredibly diverse, ambitious and skillful vocal performance on both Australis EPs and played a big role in what elevated the band's music above the rest for me.
Without a complete line-up however, it became hard for the band to record their debut album and it wasn't until recently that they finalized and released Spaces of Hope, their first full-length album.
This review will be split into two sections in order to express my stance on this album in a more clear and focussed manner. The first being about the re-recorded tracks and the second about the new songs on Spaces of Hope.
The re-recorded songs:
About half of the songs on this album were already on the band's previous releases and were re-recorded for Spaces of Hope. Most of the re-recorded tracks also received a bassline by Sal Loguidice, though I'm not sure if he only filled in on this album or if he's a permanent band member. Astral Annihilation off of the band's 2012 EP is now the title track and Synapse Collapse, another track off of the 2012 EP, is now called Probed. The other three re-recorded tracks are off of Australis' first EP Eidolon and kept their titles.
By far my biggest gripe with the re-recorded songs is that the vocals are now done by the band's guitarist Lucas Scott. While Lucas Scott is a completely capable and competent vocalist, I feel like Matthias Joyce just set the bar too high on the Eidolon and 2012 EP. Scott's vocal delivery is not as technical or diverse, though it is very consistent.
I still can't help but feel underwhelmed by this change however, especially because Provocation of Death and Astral Annihilation (now Spaces of Hope) were prime examples of outstanding and memorable vocal performances for me in their initial iteration.
Musically the re-recorded songs remain largely unchanged, but I do think that the way they are mixed and produced is worth talking about, which I go into later on.
The new songs:
Six of the songs on Spaces of Hope are entirely new compositions and constitute the real substance of the album, so to say. Australis changed their approach to their sound a lot on these tracks and, for the most part, they do not reach the same level of speed and impact that the band's previous material used to have. The tracks are more fleshed out though and the song structures are more ambitious.
Out of the new songs on this album, Photonic Disassembly left the strongest impression on me, due to the melodic section the song transitions into during its second half. The band raises the intensity and the song climaxes in some absolutely beautiful tromolo picked layers of guitars after a wailing guitar solo. I found the rest of the new songs to be very solid from a musical and compositional standpoint, but lacking in terms of memorability.
As mentioned earlier, there are some things that I want to say about the production and the mix on Spaces of Hope.
The production on both, the Eidolon and 2012 EP, was very top-heavy and lacked a bit of a lower end, whereas the opposite is the case on Spaces of Hope. The high end of the mix sounds a bit weak and distant with the lower end being much fuller and rounded off in sound. I really liked the rough and dirty sound of the first two Australis EPs though, despite the imbalance in the mix.
There are a few parts on Spaces of Hope where the additional guitars cut in quite loudly and slightly overpower the rest of the mix and I am also not a fan of the tinny snare drum sound the band adapted, since it doesn't really lend itself to faster styles of play, in my opinion.
The mix as a whole is, once again, not perfect but simply different. I feel like Australis don't shy away from trying out new things and exploring different sounds with their music.
To conclude, Spaces of Hope is a very solid debut by itself, but it has a hard time living up to the band's earlier releases. Despite all that, I still hope that Australis move on and work on more material, since I view them as one of the more noteworthy acts in contemporary technical death metal.