Album Review: Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture

Band: Ashenspire | Album:Hostile Architecture | Genre: Avant-garde metal | Year: 2022

From: Glasgow, UK | Label: Aural Music

For fans of: Ulcerate, Tomarum, Arcturus, Deathspell Omega

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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.

Score: 94/100

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