The self-titled debut full-length from Georgian trio Stars that Move is a richly stylistic and still somewhat understated affair. To explain: tonally, in its classic swing and garage-buzz presentation, topped off with stare-at-it-long-enough-and-lose-your-mind artwork by David Paul Seymour, the eight-track offering is clear in its aesthetic intent. Touches of cult rock pervade songs like “The Blue Prince” and “She that Rules the King,” but that’s not necessarily the entirety of the band’s context. More pivotal to the experience of the album than any thematic leaning in the lyrics are the swaying rhythms that take hold with opener “I Hold a Gaze” and remain firmly in place leading to the spaciousness of closer “Burning in Flames.”
Both the opener and the closer, as well as “The Blue Prince,” “She that Rules the King” and the penultimate acoustic interlude “No Evil Star” were included on Stars that Move‘s earlier-2015 Demo Songs EP (review here) in what may well have been the same recordings. Likewise, the Black Sabbath cover “A National Acrobat” that serves (“No Evil Star” notwithstanding) as the centerpiece of the album, was previously issued as a digital single, but if the full-length was compiled from past recordings, its sound is consistent and its flow uninterrupted. All of this, and it’s still fair to call Stars that Move “somewhat understated,” as above, because it’s only 25 minutes long. In fact, the only song that touches the four-minute mark is the Sabbath cover, and for the rest of what the three-piece of vocalist Elisa Maria, guitarist Richard Bennett and drummer Frank Sikes create, the core structures are so straightforward and traditional that, while stylistically elaborate, they retain a wide accessibility. A catchy song is a catchy song.
Stars that Move have plenty of them. Bennett and Sikes both being members of underrated stoner-doomers Starchild — also not shy about covering Sabbath in their day, or Sleep — one might expect tonal overload, but that’s not what this band is about. The upshot of “I Hold a Gaze” and “The Blue Prince” one into the next is that a lot of the impression is left to Maria to carry, but between her layering and the grit in Bennett‘s guitar, which, as anyone who ever heard Starchild can tell you is not an accident — he is someone who has given considerable thought and effort to crafting a tone — the initial vibe of Stars that Move feels somewhat derived from Uncle Acid but working in its own vein as well.
“From East to West,” which follows, is one of two songs not traced to a prior outing — either Demo Songs or the Jan. 2015 No Evil Star EP — the other being “The Hidden Hand,” which arrives after “A National Acrobat,” and has more bounce than swing, but ultimately works in a similar mindset, though Maria‘s vocals come through less layered and more distinct. The same could be said of “The Hidden Hand,” but that song is even further distinguished by the open groove of its chorus and psychedelic lead-work that emerges in the second half, less directly Iommic than that of “The Blue Prince,” though whether that’s a result of actually being newer or just something easily read into the narrative of what I know about the recordings, I couldn’t say. Either way, “A National Acrobat” between them, they seem to stand out all the more, though I won’t take anything away from Stars that Move‘s version of the Sabbath classic or how well the trio adapt it to their own aesthetic. Maria even adds the Ozzy laugh “Ha-ha!” as it swirls toward the end, though ultimately its Bennett whose performance proves the most striking in taking on such broadly identifiable solos.
It is short, true, but Stars that Move is likewise hypnotic, and while the cover will be somewhat jarring on a first listen through if only because it’s likely the audience will know the original version, “The Hidden Hand” restores the trance with its interlaced leads and start-stop riffing, resulting in what’s to that point the most psychedelic push yet. That might make “She that Rules the King” a return to earth, but the hook retains some airiness amid the strutting central riffs, and so the vibe once again is maintained leading to “No Evil Star” — which appeared both on Demo Songs and as the intro to the EP that shared its name; “Burning in Flames” followed on both releases as well — perhaps no less Sabbathian than the cover for its “Laguna Sunrise”-style feel and thoughtful acoustic strum.
No question as to why “Burning in Flames” would be paired with it across three separate offerings: it works. Also based around acoustic guitar, the finale of the album is also its most atmospheric cut and hits its mark around the lines, “We are the world/Burning in flames,” delivered in Maria‘s most confident declaration here, even if it is the prior recording repurposed. It’s a quiet finish to Stars that Move, but effective, and even it gives some hint at where and how the band might develop moving forward. Because of its quick runtime, I’d almost be tempted to say it’s an EP, but the flow Stars that Move pull off across the span is unmistakable in its aim, and though brief, they deliver a long-player feel and a deceptively broad scope in these tracks, while also establishing a foundation from which to work going into whatever they do next and staking an aesthetic claim that finds them cohesive in sound and approach and varied enough to work in a range of moods. To call it anything other than a successful first album would be denying it its due.