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Ashlands - Ashlands I

—Ashlands I
by Gary Hernandez at 15 October 2019, 5:42 PM

There are at least two bands called ASHLANDS in the world: One from Norway; one from Italy. Surprisingly, or not, they both play variants of Black Metal. The subject of today’s review is the Italian ASHLANDS with their debut EP, “Ashlands I,” released September 30, 2019. The band is often billed as Atmospheric Black Metal, but with “Ashlands I” as evidence I’d say Black Metal layered with Pirate Metal. I’ll start off by saying I dig the album cover. The caveat being that when a reviewer starts talking about cover art it usually means they’re looking for positive things to say about an album they otherwise dislike. The cover depicts a landscape obscured by the brightness of the sun exploding over the horizon, turning the entire image a blood orange. It seems to suggest that moments after this image was created, the entire landscape was scorched into a literal land of ash.

With that said, let’s get to the heart of this review. What is it about the actual album that I found objectionable? Very simple: the fusion of Black Metal with what I can only describe as pirate carnival music was completely off-setting — and not off-setting in an artistic, avant-garde way, but off-setting as in not good. Now if we separate the two elements, we might have a different story. While the novelty pirate stuff is bad, the Black Metal elements are actually pretty good. Sans keyboards, this album might have had a chance.

The EP comprises three tracks and is a little over 24 minutes long. Track one, “An Entrance Beneath the Dunes,” is over one third of the album, and is the worst of the set.  The second track, “Pyre,” is good until about the 4:44 mark when the flute wanders in. For about thirty seconds it seems salvageable. We have a nice acoustic interlude and the flute melody is soothing, but then the flute shifts cadence to a merry-go-round ditty and we’re back to the land of the forsaken. As good as all the Black Metal components are — and the riffs are compelling and the vocals are riveting — they aren’t good enough to redeem the track.

Track three, “Amber,” is the one song that saves the EP from being an utter failure. The piano and acoustic flourishes never venture into the realm of the ridiculous. The vocals switch between clean and harsh, and they are both good. The lead guitar work is emotive and strong, with parts giving off a cool Robert Fripp vibe. The drum work is good, kicking up the tempo to sheer visceral when needed. And the closure brings us full circle with what sounds like a piano in an unpadded, empty room with no furniture. Good, well executed track, but alas not enough.

All together, a full two-thirds of “Ashlands I” are unpalatable. The final song, while strong, simply can’t wash away the misfortune of the first two.  Oil and water doesn’t begin to describe how poorly Pirate Metal with Black Metal mix. Perhaps there’s a fan base out there that appreciates this style, but I am not amongst them.

Songwriting: 2
Originality: 4
Memorability: 2
Production: 6

2 Star Rating

1. An Entrance Beneath the Dunes
2. Pyre
3. Amber
The Wanderer  - Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Vocals (clean)
The Vanguard - Vocals (harsh)
Record Label: Independent


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