With a harsh blend of Black Metal and Doom twisting itself together into the form of a demonic hell cry, Swiss duo ASHTAR look to set the world ablaze with their sophomore release Kaikuja. A brutally cacophonous haze of destruction intermixed with fleeting ethereal glimpses of light, ASHTAR have certainly created something interesting here.
The Finnish word for Echos, Kaikuja features sprawling atmospheres of bleak darkness while all compressing itself into a dense force to be reckoned with. Lightspeed black metal passages give way easily to long dirges of the bleakest doom, while light and airy soundscapes swirl through the air.
Post-metal elements abound throughout the release, offering up comparisons to the modern Black Gaze movement, but they are fleeting, creating just enough atmospherics to move along to the next bout of heaviness.
Compared to ASHTAR‘s debut, Kaikuja is a fairly large step down in production quality. I believe this to be a creative decision on behalf of the band, with the harsher sound adding itself to the overall listening experience. Fans of top notch crystal clear recording quality may turn their noses up to this one, but as an entire piece of work, this sound is as important to Kaikuja as the guitars or drums.
Musically, ASHTAR know exactly what they are going for.
There is never a stretch to blend the genres that they work with, each transition and combination working perfectly naturally. Shoegaze styled guitar work peeks into the Blackened Doom of the album frequently, but never overstays its welcome. It adds to the scenery well, as does the occasional burst of violin swells, such as the discordant outro to album closer (She is) Awakening.
Bass work is wonderful, but has too few times to shine, the introduction to Between Furious Clouds being a stunning exception. A simplistic yet emotional display of the underrated instrument. Drumming is solid throughout the album, switching between furious Black Metal bursts and solemn static percussion with ease. In some cases the drum work is the shining point of the song with it keeping things interesting during some of the longer dirge passages (Between Furious Clouds another good example of this).
Album midpoint Bloodstones is a highlight, with the band showcasing a bit of everything. Atmospheric lead parts shine through the song creating a glorious soundscape of ASHTAR‘s post blackened doom gaze sound. The length of the song is in no way cumbersome, and the sprawling passages of dark minimalism work out very well in serving the album’s bleak aesthetic.
Kaikuja will not be a hit for everyone, but is a shining example of artists putting their vision into practice. It’s dark and brooding feel packaged with the aggression of the black metal influence work perfectly as a pair. Some passages can run a bit long, but the payoff is usually worth every minute. This one is a win in my book.
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