Ashes (United States Of America) – Grief

The music on Ashes’ debut demo isn’t really objectively any different or more advanced than what a thousand other bands are doing, but I still like it more. This is somewhat in the northwest style of Velvet Cacoon ambient black metal, but it seems less pretentious overall and more straightforward in delivery. There’s no gimmicks, no trendiness, hell, not even any real aesthetic: this demo comes in a plain CDr and clear slimline case. It’s like Ashes is doing its very best to prevent you from developing any sort of preconceived notion about its music. As a reviewer, of course, it’s my job to completely ruin such an attempt.

If you know the northwest style, you generally know what to expect: very long, sparse sections of melodic riffing with a greatly droning quality and a high amount of repetition. Everything is tremolo picked, and every note seems to be sustained endlessly. Drums (probably machine-made) are even more subdued than normal, just very barely audible underneath the constant mist of guitar and keys ala Xasthur. Murky vocals echo out in a sort of distant, gurgly, ridiculously reverb-soaked rasp. There’s a big emphasis on acoustic space, like everything you hear is reverberating out of some mist-drenched forest, and it is, admittedly, a pretty cool effect. The music is very simple, though: everything is based off a handful of very repetitive guitar riffs per song with a gentle key backing (including what seems to be occasional synthestra) and periodic vocal intrusions. The audience for this is rather strictly and immediately defined.

In general, I like it, even if it does seem rather derivative at first glance. I like the clean guitar/piano breaks (though they seriously need to be mixed up so you don’t have to crank the volume by 50% to hear them, thus nearly killing yourself when the black metal comes back in) and the subtle changes in mood, as well as the very specific and specialized song structures which seem to be the exact antithesis of verse-chorus. The riffs are generally cool, though they’re obviously designed to be atmospheric pieces more than full-on metal riffs. Like a lot of bands in this style, I’d probably describe it as ambient dressed up in black metal clothing and with similarities in instrumentation. I mean, the music is composed like the soundtrack to ‘Gladiator’ more than Immortal, so I have difficult drawing comparisons to any Norwegians.

This is yet another piece of music that you’ve probably already decided whether to investigate or not. It falls rather definitely within its style, and so, despite how well composed it is in that style, it obviously will likely not please those who hate it. So fans of the northwestern black metal sound should definitely give it a try; it’s more adept than most of the ‘suicidal’ artists out there today, and it isn’t nearly as cheesy. Somewhat pleasantly restrained, and a good example of the style pulled off correctly. Hell, it’s free anyway, so you really have no reason not to give this a listen. No, it will likely not be worth anything on Ebay anytime soon.

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~ by noktorn on September 27, 2007.

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