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Ashenspire - Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary Award winner

Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary
by Ofer Mashiach at 05 March 2017, 8:22 PM

The first rule in avant-garde music is that there are no rules. That said, to be of real value it should have some sort of consistent quality to be in any way communicative, otherwise it would not be recognized as music at all by the listener. It's very easy to jump from one thing to another, incorporate unusual instruments and produce innovative soundscapes; but to avoid the appearance of patchwork, all the components must work well together, allowing the listener to connect the dots and identify with it.

Now, since avant-gardism is all about shattering conventions and thinking outside the box, it aims to redefine what we have already known (or what we THINK we have known). If anyone reading this considers he is an experienced listener that can't be impressed so easily, then I'm quite sure that "Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary", the latest album by Glasgow's, ASHENSPIRE, can take you by surprise.

Befittingly, though, it's not surprising to find here a violinist as a permanent band member and a drummer who is also the vocalist. Their music is not easy to digest, to say the least, but at the same time it's absolutely spellbinding. I found myself drawn to it like a moth into flame. Unlike many other Avant-Garde Metal bands that tend to experiment in Extreme Metal territories, such as Black Metal or Sludge, the musical references of ASHENSPIRE are not so obvious, which puts them in a position of a stand-alone act with an identity and character of its very own. This is always a good thing because even if their complex music is not so memorable (at least not until you have listened to the album several times), they are well remembered for this fact alone.

There is so much going on in here that I don't know where to begin. One of the most intriguing aspects of this album is the lyrics. They seem to have derived from a very deranged mind, but in a good sense. They mostly deal with life situations of the deprived and the ill fated that most of us wouldn't want to see. The songs are usually structured like stories and are written in a language that well tends to exceed my vocabulary (I had to grab a dictionary more often than usual). As the title of the album implies, the lyrics are rather trippy and describe a delirious state clashing with reality, highlighting our brittle existence as mortals. Moreover, they are not actually sung (save for brief moments at certain points), but declaimed; Dunn's delivery is of the dramatic kind usually reserved for Shakespearean actors. He utters his words of wisdom and apocalyptic prophecy in an agonized, ominous tone of voice and even sounds at times like a madman that has no business outside a padded cell. When he actually sings, his voice sounds rich, mellow and soulful. I was so haunted by this in several occasions that I completely ignored the accompanying music.

And there is much music here to explore. The guitar work is very good, but its tone is too flimsy for my taste. The bass is very predominant with some really cool lines. But what really steals the show is the violin. It intertwines with the music extremely well, and as soon as you get over the idea of a violin in a Metal group, you notice that it also what actually sets the tone. It complements the madness with a sense of dolorous mourn.

First time through, I was somewhat perplexed by the arrangement and performance of this album. At first, it seemed as if each instrument was doing something completely unrelated to the other instruments, and still everything combined into an irresistible organized chaos. The songs are mostly rather slow, but you will also find sections of blast beats and more intricate drumming and rhythms with odd time notations. The keyboards also do a great job and add a delicate touch that slightly refines the overall acrid atmosphere. My favorite track is "Mariners in Perdition's Lighthouse", an epic piece that is more "stripped-down" compared to the other songs (if you can say that on this type of music), making it more memorable.

For a debut album, ASHENSPIRE have set a very high standard they will have to meet in subsequent releases. But, as I stated earlier, this band is capable of surprising. However, I wouldn't be surprised if they topped this excellent release in their next album. I'll wait here patiently and expectantly; I just can't seem to get enough of them.

Songwriting: 10
Originality: 10
Memorability: 9
Production: 10

5 Star Rating

1. Restless Giants
2. The Wretched Mills
3. Mariners at Perdition's Lighthouse
4. Grievous Bodily Harmonies
5. A Beggar's Belief
6. Fever Sheds
7. Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary
Petri Simonen - Bass
Fraser Gordon - Guitars
James Johnson - Violin
Alasdair Dunn - Vocals, Drums
Record Label: Code666


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