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Ashenspire - Hostile Architecture CD (album) cover



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5 stars

Ashenspire's Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary slipped under my radar for two years after its release, but I was suitably impressed when I finally heard it and wrote, "I foresee great things from these guys in the future." So naturally, when the band announced Hostile Architecture, my expectations were already high; they were piqued further by the intriguing album description, and still further by its uniformly glowing reviews in the music press.

Sometimes, when I go into an album with expectations that high, I find myself disappointed. I'm pleased to report that the opposite was the case here. As terrible as 2022 has been on most fronts, it's been a fantastic year for music, and I was having a hard time narrowing down my favourite album of the year so far. Ashenspire helpfully solved that dilemma for me by blowing all other contenders out of the water.

Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary was a fantastic debut, but while the comparisons to A Forest of Stars might've been rather glib, it's difficult to deny that Ashenspire wore their influences on their sleeves on their debut. (An overlooked influence is Devil Doll, confirmed by Ashenspire and almost certainly an influence on A Forest of Stars as well. [ETA: A Forest of Stars have in fact confirmed this in at least three separate interviews.] Without the Mr Doctor-like Sprechgesang of both Alasdair Dunn and Dan Eyre's vocals, I think perhaps the latter two would've felt less similar, though Laudanum Quandary's Victorian theme would've still invited the comparisons regardless.) Where the record lacked in originality, it made up for it with execution – its performances, songwriting, and arrangements were fantastic all around.

Hostile Architecture keeps up the execution, perhaps even one-upping its predecessor on that front, but the band here shifts focus from the legacy of history to the state of the modern world, and the result is all the stronger for it. It's the Teethed Glory and Injury to the debut's White Tomb, if I may compare their progression to Altar of Plagues'. I don't make that comparison frivolously, as Teethed Glory was one of my favourite albums of the 2010s, if not my absolute favourite, and I hadn't heard another record that felt like a spiritual successor to it both in terms of tone and in terms of quality. Until this one.

Please forgive a brief digression on what makes a work avant-garde. The quick answer is, (shrug emoticon). But obviously, it contains an element of pushing boundaries. This may take several forms. Take two seminal '60s avant-garde acts, the Velvet Underground and the Mothers of Invention. The Velvets were avant-garde on multiple fronts: they were musically inventive, using musical forms and instruments that had never been attempted in what might be charitably described as popular music; and lyrically inventive, frankly discussing topics like drug addiction, prostitution, sadomasochism, homosexuality, transvestitism, gender dysphoria, and abuse that had previously been taboo in what might be charitably described as popular music. And on top of that, their music still slaps. The Mothers of Invention were likewise, if you'll pardon the pun, inventive, blending elements from pop, rock, classical, jazz, blues, and basically any other genre they could think of, effectively inventing progressive rock in the process (Absolutely Free, arguably the first true progressive rock album, came out the same day as Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, thus preceding In the Court of the Crimson King by over two years and Days of Future Passed by six months), and their music was likewise fantastic. Yet, if someone blends those elements today in a similar way, they aren't avant-garde; they're imitators. They might be very good imitators, but they aren't avant-garde. It's intrinsic to the definition of avant-garde: it's literally French for before the guard, or (less literally) vanguard. Thus, a crucial element of the avant-garde is originality. It might be the crucial element.

Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary wasn't wholly unoriginal; you could hear the seeds of the band's own sound developing on that album. In the five years between its release and Hostile Architecture's, those seeds have fully taken root and flowered more beautifully than I could've imagined possible. To be clear, this isn't an album people will, on its surface, describe as "beautiful". Its dominant emotion is justifiable fury at the state of the world, which is intrinsic to its subject matter. Where we might say Laudanum Quandary focuses on the political as personal, as part of its protagonist's personal development towards understanding the legacy of empire, we might say Hostile Architecture focuses on the personal as political: your suffering isn't accidental; it's a direct consequence of how the system has been deliberately constructed. As "The Law of Asbestos" (one of the best album openers I've ever heard, by the way) puts it, "This is not a house of amateurs; this is done with full intent."

The lyrics to Laudanum Quandary were often abstract and poetic; it wasn't an apolitical album (indeed, it announced its politics on its very cover, and the band has always self-identified as Red/Anarchist Black Metal), but the cover aside, its politics were implicit, found under a sea of abstraction. Hostile Architecture's stance is explicitly anarchist; its entire edifice, if you'll pardon the obvious architecture metaphor, is its stance that the entire system is rotten from the foundation up, designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many. The only ethical solution is to demolish the power structures that perpetuate these inequalities and replace them with a system founded on just, equitable distribution of power – in short, anarchy (and not the popular misconception of chaos: anarchy is simply an Anglicisation of the Greek ἀναρχίᾱ, or anarkhíā, formed from ἀν for without, ᾰ̓ρχή for rulership, and ίᾱ to form an abstract noun; thus, it means the lack of rulers).

I've thus far only alluded to Hostile Architecture's musical style because the shift in Ashenspire's style since Laudanum Quandary is inextricably linked to their shift in subject matter. They often sounded like A Forest of Stars on Laudanum Quandary because that's the natural sound for a progressive black metal band to take when focusing on the Victorian era. Here, they focus on modern urban structures, both physical and metaphorical; it wouldn't do at all to sound like A Forest of Stars here.

Thus, Hostile Architecture is much bleaker; the saxophone often feels reminiscent of the dark jazz we might associate with urban landscapes. (I'm sure Ashenspire will receive comparisons to White Ward, but as obvious as and flattering as the comparison might be, and as likely as it is that White Ward was an influence, they feel very different – White Ward is primarily depressive where Hostile Architecture is primarily furious.) Hostile Architecture has a strong industrial element (they'll probably also receive comparisons to Norway's Shining, especially given the saxophone; that feels slightly closer to the mark, but they're still quite different), and at times they delve into folk as well: "The Law of Asbestos" contains hammered dulcimer from Botanist's Otrebor (whose band rules, by the way), alongside James Johnson's violin and Matthew Johnson's saxophone, which gives its opening movement a bit of a Celtic folk metal feel. But the dominant style is utterly furious avant-garde/industrial black metal.

The only comparisons I can make for most of the album are to Teethed Glory and Injury, or much of Blut aus Nord's work, but while I rank both in the upper echelon of avant-garde/black metal, the comparison feels inadequate. I have my suspicions that both Teethed Glory and Blut aus Nord influenced this album [ETA: Dunn has confirmed the former in an interview], but it's quite different from either. It's, in many ways, where Ashenspire had to go after Laudanum Quandary: having examined the past's impacts on the present day, it was the logical next step to examine the present day itself. I doubt either Altar of Plagues or Blut aus Nord would much disagree with Ashenspire's bleak depiction of the world (Blut aus Nord's work is rarely openly political, but mastermind Vindsval has denounced nationalism and said his political views resemble Wolves in the Throne Room's), but neither has ever written an album this overtly political.

These are some of the best metal lyrics I have ever heard, of quality comparable to Deathspell Omega's and Pyrrhon's. Here's the closing segment to "The Law of Asbestos":

            Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to the peak.
            Another day to grind your fingers for the simple right to eat.
            Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to the crown.
            Another deep breath of asbestos in a godforsaken town.
            Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to the top.
            Another set of [%*!#]ing homeless spikes outside another empty shop.
            Always three months to the gutter. Never three months to ascent.
            This is not a house of amateurs. This is done with full intent.

Simple, direct, and powerful – it's some of the most effective use of repetition I've ever heard in a metal song.

Dunn's delivery throughout the album sounds like a furious Twelfth Doctor channelling the Sprechgesang of Mr Doctor (Peter Capaldi and Alasdair Dunn are both Glaswegian, so their similar speech cadences are not coincidental; and as Ashenspire explicitly cites Devil Doll as an influence, the similarity to Mr Doctor's manner of delivery is undoubtedly not coincidental either). His delivery of the above passage is full of seemingly every bit of the fury the lyrics demand, and the music backs it up. Then the band doubles the tempo, and Dunn repeats the passage even more furiously.

A note for non-British listeners: This song's line "Grenfell burns again" refers to the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017, which killed 72 people. The fire was exacerbated by faulty cladding that was widely used throughout Britain; in its aftermath, Dame Judith Hackett wrote that the entire British building regulatory system was "not fit for purpose", and by June 2020, some 2,000 high-rise buildings had been identified as at risk of similar files. The British government pledged £5 billion to remediate fire safety problems, which still fell far short of the costs incurred; many were thus borne by flat owners who'd believed the properties they'd bought had been properly built.

I could write an entire essay just on "The Law of Asbestos", but that would leave the rest of the album to cover. However, I'm not going to write a track-by-track review or note every highlight; I've gushed for long enough as it is, and I don't mean to spoil every pleasant surprise it has to offer. (Plus, I wouldn't give a 100% to an album if I didn't consider the entire album to be a highlight.) The title Hostile Architecture may derive from architecture designed to produce physical discomfort, but clearly, the album doesn't merely focus on literal physical examples of hostile architecture; its thesis is that society's entire edifice is hostile architecture. And it's full of fantastic lines like "When you can't see the stars, you stop dreaming of space" ("Béton Brut") and "There are no great men, only the great many" ("Tragic Heroin"). The arrangements, songwriting, and performances are universally impeccable, but I need to single out Dunn's drumming in particular – it's phenomenal.

One of the album's most-discussed tracks has been the interlude "How the Mighty Have Vision", where Dunn is joined by a four-part choir consisting of Rylan Gleave and Maud the Moth's Amaya López-Carromero. It's a fascinating change of pace, and one of the few times Dunn sings on the album – and he uses the expected traditional black metal rasp even less often. His dominant vocal style is Sprechgesang, which helps the album's message hit all the harder, since his words are all (despite his obvious Glasgow accent) clearly enunciated in the manner of an angry sermon.

I need to single out one further highlight: the closer "Cable Street Again", which refers to the Battle of Cable Street, a confrontation on Cable Street, located in London's East End, between some 2,000 to 5,000 members of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists in and anywhere from 100,000 to over 310,000 antifascist counterdemonstrators. East End at the time had a large Jewish population, and some 100,000 East Londoners had signed a Jewish People's Council petition asking for the march to be banned. Ultimately, due to the presence of so many counterdemonstrators, the police called the BUF to march in the West End instead. Although the BUF's membership went up in the immediate wake of the Battle of Cable Street, it fatally sank their cause in the long run; Mosley's image as a strong leader was indelibly tarnished by the event, and ultimately the Public Order Act of 1936 banned the wearing of political uniforms like the Blackshirts' and required police permission for large gatherings such as the BUF's march.

But that was 1936, and today's feckless politicians can't be relied upon to suppress Fascism. Indeed, if the BUF hadn't faced such public opposition, it's unlikely that Britain's leaders at the time would've taken such strong steps either. Fascists took over Italy and Germany through legal means – unethical, but legal. The state can't be relied upon to protect us, and the current state of society is no accident; it's the result of a system working as intended. Dunn says:

            The violence is here. Modern Blackshirts in the streets.
            What good is civility in the face of a kerb full of teeth?
            'Tis no broken system; but the product of it.
            You cannot fix that which is working as intended.
            Gnashing-toothed printing press. Virulent. Caustic.
            They bound the fasces themselves. Sharpened the axe.
            Know this; they aren't resting, nor reading the rules.
            They're desperate for war; gagging for it.
            If it's to be Cable Street again, we won't win through debate.
            You can't reason with malice. The fasces must break.

            If this is against the grain, then the blight really has set in.
            The furrowing of brows and the festering of blame. Misshapen and bent.
            It's not the [%*!#]ing corner shop that drives up your rent.
            They salted the soil! Buried up to your neck in the debts of your station.
            But this is where it ends. There's no middle road.
            And I tell you;
            Get down off the fence
            before the barbed wire goes up.

I've written thousands of words about this album, and yet in truth, nothing I say could sum up its greatness better than Ashenspire's own words do. The best I can hope is to provide exegesis.

Hostile Architecture is quite likely to be my album of the year, and possibly of the decade. It's immediately bracing on first listen and reveals further depth on subsequent ones. Its songwriting, arrangement, performance, originality, and lyrics are beyond reproach and not merely supplement but provide foundations for each other. Its form and style are results of its content, and its content makes its form and style even more effective. It's inventive because of its style and form, and because no metal album has addressed these problems as directly, as effectively, or as ingeniously. Ashenspire's message is urgent and vital, and by wrapping it in one of the most satisfying listens I've heard this year or any other, they've given it a power and urgency that are not merely refreshing but necessary.


(Note: I've also posted this review to Rate Your Music and have submitted it to Metal Archives.)

Report this review (#2778507)
Posted Thursday, July 21, 2022 | Review Permalink
4 stars More new progressive music this year. Honestly I feel like all in all this year has been a great year for Prog rock, heck I could even say it may rival some years from the 70s like 1973 or 1975. We're heading into a familiar yet a tad different territory. In a land filled with King Crimsons and black midis, the more weird and experimental side of Prog is one where everything feels like a rollercoaster of mayhem, but never once did any of those bands have a sort of album that was a lot heavier to the point where they become Avant garde metal music. I have talked about metal bands that are weirder than usual before, but never stuff like this where they go for a really jazzy and experimental approach.

Ashenspire is a newer band that sprouted up in 2015 with the single, Mariners at Perdition's Lighthouse. Their origin is pretty unknown but their music has a ton of themes to cruelties of the world, much like the last band I reviewed not long ago that also released an album this year. Kinda funny how I am reviewing two metal albums that came this year that both have similar themes. This album has been getting a tiny bit of buzz lately so I was interested to see what it was like. To be honest, it's pretty great.

So the album begins with the song The Law of Asbestos. It starts with this slow climb until it bursts out into frantic riffs and drumming, backed up by a saxophone in the back. This song really is just pure insanity. Every which way you turn you just get weird and crazy music. As someone who loves this style of music, I quickly became comfortable in my seat. The blaring horns mixed with the intense yet smooth drumming really sets this off as such a good opener. Plus those vocals are so great for this kind of music. They sound so smooth and so rich with energy yet they sound so deranged that it throws your head into a spin. This is a really amazing opener for this album.

The album does not let up with the equally frantic song of Béton Brut. We still have that chaotic Avant Garde metal sound, but everything feels a lot harsher. Never once does this song stop to break, which leads into a small issue I have with this album. It never really stops and tries to have a song or a small bit that is a little less deranged. To me the appeal of this style of music is the chaos, but also the calm after it all happens. Another album that released this year, Hellfire by black midi, had moments of calm and collective music that while sometimes sparse, can allow you to breathe and let the music soak you in. Here, while really great, sort of bash your head against a brick wall without at least giving you some kind of a helmet. That's my only really noticeable gripe with this album. This song is great, definitely a good lead after the first.

In the next chapter of this album's song list is Plattenbau Persephone Praxis. This is where we get a little more of that jazzy stuff that this band has been using a lot in tandem with their metal structure. The saxophone really drives home this song a ton. It is always there, and it adds so much personality to the music. I am a firm believer that more metal bands should add horns, specifically saxophones, to their music and this is the reason why. It adds charm in their gritty and harsh music that was already dripping in personality already. It is so good, probably one of the best songs from this album.

Now I sort of lied when I said there was no moment on this album that has a quieter and more relaxed moment, but that was only because I forgot this song existed. How The Might Have Vision is one of those small in between tracks that is a lot different than the rest of the work found so it becomes forgettable, yet you still sort of like it. It is more of an operatic and less metal piece that shows a bit of the band's classical influence. It is still highly Avant Garde in nature but definitely toned down. It definitely can be used as a breather so thumbs up for that. I like it, just a tiny bit forgettable.

We get right back into the insanity with Tragic Heroin. I really like how this song feels like an actual roller coaster at times. It feels like the song rises for a little bit then falls super fast and then rises up again to fall back down in crashing, hell vomiting insanity. This song is so fun to listen to. It feels so chaotic that really there is no human emotion to really put into it. It's not angry, scared, disgusted, it's more or less it's own thing somehow, and I guess that is really this whole album. It feels like a human emotion that doesn't exist and it's something that we cannot seem to fathom. It's honestly spectacular.

We get a bit more slower but still intense stuff with Apathy as Asenic Lethargy as Lead. The saxes take a back seat on this one in favor of the guitar and vocals. You can definitely feel a lot of rawness in their sound by stripping the more jazz side of the equation and showing off their sweet playing skills or their vocal harmonies. It really allows the band to stretch a bit in other fields. It's honestly great to hear some of what the band can truly accomplish with this piece of music, especially when they strip down a bit. It shows how much they are truly professionals in their craft.

Again with stripping down a bit with Palimpsest. This time the vocals are removed from the equation, and it still sounds really good. It gives a bit more of a math rock jam vibe in this song with the clear focus on the drumming. You can hear all the weird time signatures being strung around this album like Christmas lights at your neighbor's house even though it is August and they should probably remove them, it's been like 3 years, stop having Christmas lights up, they don't even work anymore. It feels so energetic yet still controlled, it's a controlled chaos that really seeps into your ears and it is one that makes me sit comfortably.

The last song is the longest here, being 9 minutes. I swear this is the second time I reviewed a metal album that has a song that is 9 minutes in length and is the finale to the album. This song, Cable Street Again, really shows the band at their most energetic. It twists and turns all around to create such a brilliant finale as it crescendos into a brilliant and harsh cacophony of sound. It reminds me of the first time I heard the ending of 21st Century Schizoid Man by King Crimson. It ends so chaotically that your mind cannot process it all. Also that part in the song where there is basically nothing other than small hints of feedback as the vocals just sweep through in such an exhausted yet smooth tone is so good. This song is everything this album has to offer. It is such a great song to close off this great album.

This album is just fantastic. Sure it may be a little much at times and it isn't for everyone, but really this just sets in stone on how right this sound truly is. Now I will say at times I feel like this album tries a little too hard, and that it really can be a little headache inducing if you are not in the right mindset or mood for this album. For that reason I will not say this album is a masterpiece, but man is it close to being one. It just shows how good this album truly is. Highly recommend checking it out if you like this more Avant Garde and intense jazzy Prog rock music like I do.

Report this review (#2784816)
Posted Tuesday, August 16, 2022 | Review Permalink
5 stars 18th January: Ashenspire - Hostile Architecture (avant-garde progressive metal, 2022)

Last year, I wrote a bit about Countless Skies' Glow with the discussion point about the acceptability of plagiarism and overt influence. At what point does it become too much? Is borrowing ideas irrelevant when the music is still very good?

This is another prime example, but for totally different reasons. There's no genuine plagiarism here, unlike some parts of that Countless Skies record, but stylistically this is almost entirely lifted from one band - A Forest of Stars. The theatrical vocals, the saxophone, the black metal bursts, the drama, the atmosphere, basically everything except the lyrics are completely a continuation of the AFOS sound. I do think the change in lyrics is interesting, because whilst something like Grave Mounds and Grave Mistakes is a silly, humorous and absurd album, this is dead [%*!#]ing serious. Adversity, austerity and true Scottish anguish characterise this, and it's honestly incredible how well this style of music suits both moods. Perhaps that's why it's just so good.

But at the end of it, if you're lifting your entire sound from a band who have received endless praise for being utterly unique, is it really that much of a crime? We need more music like this, and the fact that they've put a different emotional spin (that AFOS would never do) does make this worthwhile. It's also just incredibly good on the music itself. If this was the next AFOS album, I would probably even say it was their best. It's dense, passionate, angry, melodic and utterly compelling. It also has a Scottish man yelling about the government in it.

Derivative as it may be, perhaps this is an evolution rather than a clone, because at the end of the day, I still absolutely love this.

7.9 (4th listen)

Part of my listening diary from my facebook blog:

Report this review (#2876597)
Posted Thursday, January 19, 2023 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album hits home hard. The sound is gritty and nasty and so are the lyrics. Alasdair Dunn is angry and desperate, so he screams his words at you.

Having said this, I haven't heard many albums so relevant as this one. Thematically, it is close to Pink Floyd's Animals and Rage Against the Machine. But musically, this is something else.

The Law of Asbestos is one of the highlights of the album. "Always three months to the gutter Never three months to the top" is now as much fixed in my head as "... when they turn their backs on you, you'll get the chance to put the knife in" or "They say jump, you say how high". 10/10

Béton Brut is another track that cries despair and hopelessness. The music perfectly fits the mood of the lyrics. 8.5/10

Plattenbau Persephone Praxis has some beautiful sax playing through the noise of despair. Is this the tiny glimmer of hope? The lyrics certainly don't convey any message of hope. 8.5/10

How the Mighty Have Vision is an unexpected slow point with a haunting choir. The lyrics continue to be grim 8.5/10

Tragic Heroin picks up the pace and the menace again. Some great gems to be found in the lyrics for sure 8.5/10

Apathy as Arsenic Lethargy as Lead has the same themes again, presented in a slightly different way. The ruling class is exploiting the workers who have no hope. At this point, it starts to get a bit repetitive to me. 7.5/10

Palimpsest is breath of fresh air. Slightly different musical themes and lyrics. 8.5/10

Cable Street Again is a very relevant song in these desperate days, telling us fascism is around the corner (or already here). It's gripping. Especially the part where Alasdair cries out "Desperate times call for desperate measures" 9.5/10

All in all, this album holds two masterpieces for me, the opener and the closer. And I was torn between 4 and 5 stars. However, the urgency of this album makes me decide to grant the 5 stars.

Report this review (#2879685)
Posted Wednesday, February 1, 2023 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
3 stars The avant-garde metal band ASHENSPIRE first hit the scene in the Scottish capital city Glasgow in 2013 and five years later released its debut "Speak Not Of The Laudanum Quandary" in 2017. The band stuck out like a sore thumb in the world of extreme metal with a bizarre mix of black metal guitar gallops, a lugubrious string-quartet violin presence, some sizzling saxophone squeaking and the most uncharacteristic attribute of all, an unhinged vocal narration that sounded more like a madman on a rant rather than any proper singer in the world of metal. As much anarcho-punk as jazz-metal, the debut tackled the multi-century exploitation and brutality of the British Empire across the planet and with a less than subtle declarative decree, ASHENSPIRE was on the scene.

Skip ahead five years and the band is back with its second offering of hostility titled HOSTILE ARCHITECTURE all dressed for a riot in its favorite chimeric mix of black metal, gypsy / chamber swing, soul jazz and madman poetry only this time the band has been getting more than its share of attention for its acrid societal critique of the collapsing social order. Basically HOSTILE ARCHITECTURE is a manic report of the failures of the New World Order and the elite power structures that have crafted the pyramid system of control that propels them to the lap of luxury at the expense of the masses which now find themselves in utter decay as they increasingly live in squalor with fetid infrastructure and inequality ubiquitous.

This is an album that's gotten a lot of coverage in 2022 for its unorthodox mix of black metal savagery pacified by a melodic sax and violin dueling stabilizing force. Sounding like he escaped the insane asylum and forgot his meds, drummer / lead vocalist Alasdair Dunn delivers all his scathing societal reviews like an adrenalized protester with steadfast supplications of remedy while the thundering force of a black metal freight train finds the rampaging post-metal processions decorated by sultry cyclical sax squawking and ear-piercing ostinato violin grooves haunting the depressive anxious dissonant protest.

Musically, this band reminds me a lot of Norway's Shining with its depressive disso-black metal joined by a jazzified form of brutal prog only with the extra touches of a chamber rock violin performance. All in all the music is quite impressive with with lyrics that evoke the pungent explosive pluckiness not heard since Crass haunted the UK with its angsty art punk in the early 1980s. While the musical procession is quite unique to ASHENSPIRE, the album tends to run on the same high octane fuel for its duration with the exception of the intermezzo interstitial interrupting "How The Mighty Have Vision" which recalls the bizarre style of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum which also made ample use of violins in an avant-metal context.

This is an album i really want to love because it has everything that i love about a creative passionate modern day metal band that is setting the world on fire however as flexibie and far-reaching as my musical insatiability is, there are still a few stylistic approaches that totally rub me the wrong way and therefore i find myself on an opposite spin from my music loving contemporaries in the world. Musically this is spot on in about every way from the frenetic syncopation of the guitar, bass and drums to the lenifying efficacy of the violin and sax combo and the morbid mix of it all. What really keeps me from hella lovin' ASHENSPIRE simply boils down to the vocal style. I just can't get into spoken word musical performances with the exception of some sort of frantic weirdness in the vein of Captain Beefheart who recited his beat poetry like a mutant reject of the Montauk Project.

On the one hand the half-spoken, half-sung lyrics do allow the lyrics to be understood which is not the case in the vast majority of growly voiced extreme metal these days however for a lead vocalist to pull this off convincingly, the said singer must shave some sort of above average charisma or stylistic approach that adds to the one / two punch of the musical performances. That is how i find this album completely lopsided. For those who can tolerate the vocals, you will absolutely love this one. Excellent lyrical content, outstanding musical content. For me it's like eating a delicious cinnamon roll with raisins in it. I hate raisins :(

Report this review (#2879883)
Posted Thursday, February 2, 2023 | Review Permalink
5 stars Certain albums click with me immediately. Some of them I wind up absolutely loving, like Moura's self-titled or Papangu's Holoceno. Others fall from my graces fairly quickly, like Hand. Cannot. Erase. or Devin Townsend's Deconstruction. Yet other releases, meanwhile, take a while to sink in. Even if I didn't totally love it on the first listen, I keep feeling drawn back to it; and on subsequent spins, my enjoyment only grows deeper.

The second full-length album from Scotland's Ashenspire is one of those albums that really grew. On the first listen, I liked it. It's an incredibly dense record, so I knew I was going to need to revisit it. By the third time I made my way through this opus, it had become a serious contender for my album of the year. The blend of black metal and avant-garde influences is incredible, and the raw anger of this record truly shines through.

"The Law of Asbestos" opens on slightly-askew jazzy guitar and saxophone before delving into a bruising wall of distortion. The saxophone remains clear above this aggressive backdrop, and violin comes in alongside it. This melodic element is tossed aside as the first verse bursts forth in a furious, surging ball of chaos. The hoarse vocals, unnatural rhythm, and dense soundscape combine to create a desperate, oppressive atmosphere. The closing two minutes are especially powerful.

Despite the structural and compositional complexities, this release shares a lot of DNA with punk music. There is a sense of real, bare fury here, underscored by the abrasiveness of the music; and the lyrics are openly political and harshly critical of capitalism. 

Another punishing wall of guitar, sax, and violin kicks off "Béton Brut". This resolves into something more melodic when the vocals enter. The music is sinister and imposing, an excellent match to the embittered, critical lyrics. This song pushes along relentlessly, awash in rage. It ends on a particularly memorable saxophone passage which suits the piece perfectly.

The album next moves onto "Plattenbau Persephone Praxis". The jazz flavors present in "The Law of Asbestos" return in the guitar part, and that blend of metal and jazz feels so natural. Around two minutes in, we finally get a bit of breathing room as the guitars drop out. The drumming is tight and technical, and the overdriven electric piano and bass lend a foreboding feeling. Wavering violins only add to the tension. When the guitars eventually reenter, it's a chilling, powerful moment. The rhythmic interplay between the different instruments is nothing short of virtuosic, and the closing saxophone solo is gorgeous, melodic, and melancholic.

"How the Mighty Have Vision" is a short piece that opens a cappella. The vocal arrangement is strongly evocative of hymnal chanting, and the spare instruments that do eventually show up serve to emphasize the cynical lyrics.

Another short song, "Tragic Heroin", follows, though this is a more in-your-face track. Guitars and violins twist around each other, and the vocals are angrily shouted. The main riff here is a nasty, dirty thing, and I again need to compliment this band's drummer. Parts of the vocal melody, accompanied by violin, give me flashes of British folk music amidst this maelstrom of dissonance and distortion.

There's an off-kilter, wobbling effect to the guitar lines that open "Apathy as Arsenic Lethargy as Lead". This metrical madness continues in the verse, but the rhythm somehow manages to pull everything together. The violin is the real star of this song, though. It provides a solid lead for the listener to latch onto, and that sharp tone rises above the dark, distorted slurry of guitars. 

"Palimpsest" is a fairly short instrumental. The drumming is tumbling, uneven, and artfully odd; and the lightly-distorted guitar and saxophone cultivate a sense of impending doom. Tension builds naturally, and certain elements in the guitarwork remind me of art punk. 

Hostile Architecture closes on its longest song, the nine-and-a-half minute "Cable Street Again". The song erupts from the very first second in a scouring storm of harsh vocals and distorted guitars. Black metal is the backbone of this passage, though the sax and violin give it a unique character. After the guitars drop out, the vocals are not so much sung as bitterly raved over minimal piano-and-sax backing. 

Guitars reenter in a snarling attack. This isn't exactly a mellow album, but even in this context, the pure rage of this track stands out. Following a wonderful sax solo, the enters a truly blistering passage. A galloping black metal riff is perforated by frequent stabs of sharp violins, and it pushes the song to its eventual climax.

Hostile Architecture is a powerful, challenging album. The music is dense, harsh, and demands the listener's full attention. But it's worth it. This is a fantastic avant-garde metal release that blends artfulness with raw, justified rage.

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Posted Tuesday, April 4, 2023 | Review Permalink

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