Ashen Horde – Fallen Cathedrals (Extreme Metal Music/Rockshots Records)Sunday, 17th March 2019
Seems it’s been a while since we’ve seen a full-length from the ‘progressive black metal’ act in Ashen Horde. The last full offering, Nine Plagues, was in 2015 – though 2017 saw the two-track The Alchemist unveiling the former one man act of Trevor Portz being expanded into a duo (with Stevie Boiser now on vocals). But it was worth the wait. Again taking the conceptual route, this time with J.G. Ballard’s High Rise as the source material, Fallen Cathedrals sets itself up as a thinking person’s metal.
The continued highlight for Ashen Horde is the sheer amount of the metal spectrum that is incorporated into the music. From the band’s beginnings, it was hard to classify and Fallen Cathedrals continues the outward expansion in glorious fashion. The progressive black metal tag is deceiving in this sense, as the usage of everything from odd-ball time signatures and sidewinding riffs, throttling black metal atmosphere and frenetic drums, death metal aggression and fury, to some moments of pure heavy metal glory exist, and often take place in succession (just check the opening track “Parity Lost”). The band has always worked with these juxtapositions though, and the melodic side is something that rears its head more this time. The first usage of clean vocals has arrived, but they are tastefully done and never used in the rote, obligatory sense. Instead they add an additional brushstroke to the already varied instrumentation and extreme vocal styles. With all of the diversity, there’s still a rhyme and reason to the tracks, and a clear vision (the conceptual approach helps here no doubt), and that’s the real treat. Whether it’s the ear-worm melodies that start “The Vanishing” and metamorphose into ripping death metal intensity (and then back to groovy prog-ish breakdown), or the almost trippy melodies of “Cages” that later evolve into blast-beat driven black metal and eventual death metal groove, you always have something that will grab your attention.
For some reason, Ashen Horde has never managed to find the appreciation that they deserve. Perhaps now with a label and their strongest work sitting in front of them, a breakthrough is finally inevitable. Bands with a more unique sound are often subject to being a bit underrated/undervalued sadly, and Ashen Horde fit the billing by providing a wide breadth of extreme metal thrills that should spark the interest of any that seek originality. Fallen Cathedrals is just flat-out excellent stuff.