Ever since I was completely and progressively desensitized by the music of Imperial Triumphant, Kayo Dot, maudlin of the Well, early Ephel Duath, and late Arcturus, it’s been very difficult to find avant-garde metal that tickles my fancy in all the right ways. There’s something about the genre, at least in my conception and perspective of it, that requires it to be as cerebral as progressive metal, yet as heartful as post-rock to make it really hit home. I notice that it’s a hard balance to achieve, and bands tend to lean heavier on one side of this equation. There are rare cases that nail this balance and also manage to be compelling songwriters, offering the things we tend to call more often than not masterpieces.
Ashenspire have managed to create an amazing album that strikes the aforementioned balance in a stellar manner. I’m currently on the fence about calling Hostile Architecture a masterpiece, though. Maybe it’s because I’m an insufferable snob sometimes, maybe because I like to sit with things and see how they age to get a different perspective into the equation as a listener – it might be a bunch of things. Although that’s not the focus as I see it. Hostile Architecture is a very compelling and authentic journey that will drive you through places you never thought existed and make you feel things you never imagined.
There’s a frenzied, visceral, raw, and almost primal characteristic that sits at the heart of the demeanor and emotional charge of the album. I don’t quite know what it is. It’s something otherworldly, mercurial, dense, and vaguely unsettling, as if it’s the sonic recreation of a soul torn asunder from its ethereal flux of origin. Yeah, that sounds pretty damn harrowing, but somehow it doesn’t feel that dramatic and overpowering when going through the sounds. There’s something like an impalpable damper there, like ten feet of nuclear-resistant glass allowing you to experience the spectacle in its entirety without putting yourself in danger.
The dark and twisted delivery of the music rests firmly in the arrangement of the layers and the organic quality of the way it’s all produced. Said delivery comes off with the enthralling vibe of a live performance – as if. The copious amounts of dissonance and off-kilter rhythmic madness that are being engaged in here contribute to creating this rich tapestry. Stylistically, it’s hard to write off the record into any particular direction; it certainly borrows a lot from jazz, metal, and tidbits from many other areas. It’s even more difficult to explain it, but you can definitely feel all of these if you dig in carefully.
The chamber orchestra-sized line-up of the band is very much a requirement to execute what we hear, although I do admit that I was surprised to see it being this ample and diverse after my first few listens. It goes without saying that such a wholly textured and detailed expression would’ve been nigh impossible to achieve otherwise. Another pleasant surprise was seeing that Maud the Moth mastermind Amaya López-Carromero made an appearance, specifically on “How The Mighty Have Vision”, a song that pops up halfway through the album as a very sharp and distinct turn in tone. I was thrown off at first, but I came to love the way it plays in the dynamic and the flow of the album overall after several listens.
Ashenspire have a unique and carefully crafted vision on hand, and they propel us into its deepest bowels without any warning signs or word of advice beforehand. Hostile Architecture is easily one of the most promising debuts I’ve ever heard from a band, and without a shred of doubt one of the best albums of this year and of this niche. While Hostile Architecture barely had time to seep into the collective consciousness of listeners and the style itself, I’m here already daydreaming about what its follow-up will be and how it’s going to be equally awesome in different ways.