Album: Ashlands I
Genre: Epic Black Metal
Release Date: September 30th, 2019
Epic black metal is one of those genres that I always forget exists but I’m always glad when I remember it does. Black metal has been an outlet for some pretty abhorrent things so it’s nice that some bands choose to use it for fantasy storytelling. Ashlands is beginning their career with a rather ambitious artistic plan. This Ep is the first installment of a trilogy that tells the story of a people displaced by war who have to traverse the dangerous “Ashlands.” While I admire what this band is attempting to do, this record wasn’t as grand and impactful as I was hoping.
The three songs on this album blend black metal and medieval instrumentation. An Entrance Beneath the Dunes kicks the album off in a very high-fantasy manner. Horns, plucked strings, and percussion swell as the first minutes progress and it really feels like the beginning of a story. I greatly appreciated that the band kept parts of this instrumental palette even when the track kicked into its black metal passages. Pyre has something similar happen in the last three minutes. The last stretch of this track is great and overflows with climactic fantasy energy. This Ep’s most unique moments are where it shines brightest, however, I think that most of it falls flat.
There are a few main issues that really bog down this project. First is the production. Throughout this entire release, the black metal passages are completely hollow. The drums, which are programmed, are mostly inaudible, save for a few uninspired blast beats. Additionally, the guitars on this Ep just do not have it together. They aren’t played in a unique way, nor do they have a particularly interesting tone. The only thing that can really qualify this as a black metal release are the vocals. Even the most blackened moments have no teeth. I understand the desire to go for a DIY sound, but I feel that approach often sacrifices intensity and clarity that would have been needed to keep my attention. Ashlands I is severely hampered by toothless production.
Another aspect of this album that hurt the experience for me was the song structure. These tracks are all quite long, without being able to justify their length. While there are quite a few things to like about the first two tracks, they are particularly guilty of this. Both contain unnecessary guitar solos, as well as overlong passages of stagnant hard rock. The fantasy elements are placed at the beginnings and ends of songs, leaving the rest of the track to feel like a slog. As a result, I often found myself bored while listening to this project, despite its brief length. I don’t think I should have this much difficulty staying engaged with a 25-minute record.
The last complaint I have is with the last song, Amber. It’s an okay song, but I really just couldn’t pick anything out of it. The clean vocals and acoustic instrumentation were a nice touch, but the track is just boring overall. I had to actively remind myself to take notes because I could not stop zoning out. It contains the same structural issues as the two tracks before it, but this time without any of the flair.
I think this is a flawed Ep which demonstrates potential. The biggest issues with this record are truthfully quite fixable, and the best elements do stand out quite prominently. Now, this is a debut, which also makes the issues here a lot more forgivable, but they absolutely must be corrected. I don’t particularly have any comments on the lyrics or story, but I will say that I’ll follow the rest of this bands output to see where it goes. If you’re a big fan of epic black metal and high fantasy definitely check this one out.
- An Entrance Beneath the Dunes
Total Playing Time: 24:47