When it comes to songs, the k-pop landscape has been in a relatively safe, internationally-minded place for a while now. So when I saw that Stellar‘s new single was going to be called Archangels Of The Sephiroth (세피로트의 나무), my interest was instantly piqued. Not only is it a badass, obscure and off-the-wall title, but Stellar themselves are not usually this type of group. Throughout the latter half of their career, their music has been much more closely tied to sexy, girly concepts than anything this boundary-pushing. In my constant quest to Keep K-Pop Weird, Archangels definitely moves in the right direction. It doesn’t quite reach its full potential, but the effort is well-appreciated.
Right from the start, Archangels beguiles with its Middle Eastern, percussion-based instrumental. When most acts are going tropical, Stellar have truly taken an adventurous 180 turn. The droning mix of sitar and hypnotic drum patterns feels very specific, but never surrenders entirely to pastiche. Instead, it paints a moody, striking atmosphere that feels miles away from what we would normally consider k-pop.
Stellar’s performance echoes this strategy, jettisoning the high-pitched cutesy act preferred by many of their peers for an understated, somewhat sinister delivery that really sets them apart. The verses are nearly perfect, displaying an effortless sense of mesmerizing melody. On the other hand, the shouty, chant-based chorus is more likely to divide opinion. On first listen, its noisy brashness comes across as jolting in the worst way possible, but once you know to expect it, the contrast makes more sense. Still, I can’t help but wonder what kind of masterpiece might have been created had the songwriters extended the mysticism of Archangels‘ verses to a more full-throated, complete chorus.