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Ashtar : Ilmasaari


Ashtar's debut is a beautifully-crafted crucible for a wide array of influences.



Consider the following ingredients. Doom. Black metal. UFO cults. Pagan metal. Chaos. The bands Phased and shEver. Drone. Magic. Sludge. Mystery. Dark ambient. Digeridoos. Consider assembling them all together in a crypt in Switzerland, and have Greg Chandler mix and 'season them to taste' in England. What could possibly go wrong?

Nothing, as it turns out. Nothing at all.

Swiss duo Ashtar, featuring members of the aforementioned Phased and shEver, play metal comprised of an unholy concoction of much of the above. Haunting, droning, wispy and bewitching on the one hand. Powerful, stately and purposeful of the other; and as much as there are clearly a number of different influences and elements in evidence at no time does the music descend into a jazzy mess. One thing Ashtar can do is craft decent songs. That may well be down to a seam of 'old school-ness' running through their music despite their highly current sound. I'd be very suprised if early Bathory and Celtic Frost records are not to be found lurking somewhere in their personal music collections.

It's thankfully rather difficult to pigeon hole them into one particular genre. Most of their press online has them down as (blackened) Doom, Sludge or Black Metal, and whilst all of those could rightly be levelled at them there is a whole host of other activity going on to prick the ears of the listener. The most prominent of which is the Drone element, which is found as much in the riffing, atmospherics and the measured (and at times tribal) drumming as well as in the digeridoo on the final track. Opener 'Des Siècles...' is as good a place as any on the album to highlight their eclectic style. Beginning with a droning, sludgy riff (with blackened pretensions) the early part of the song rumbles along like an opiated Bathory before the whole thing stops sharply and the blast beats kick in, heralding the first of a few promising Black metal moments, before the whole thing grinds to a sludgy halt with some spoken French.

Much of the album retains this divergent approach, however, each track has its own collection of idiosyncracies which keep the monotony at bay. A good example would be the acoustic guitar and screechy whispered vocals on 'Celestial' and of course the digeridoo, strings and acoustic opening on 'Collide'. As much as the album has an ethereal mystery to it, brought about by the droning atmosphere, it's worth noting that this is a seriously heavy album. Its 'weight' does not come purely from distortion or fast paced bludgeoning (indeed, most of the tracks are mainly mid paced or slightly quicker), but rather from a measured, serious approach and also from the tortured screeching of bassist and vocalist Witch N, whose mix of styles and approach is itself an album highlight.

Overall what we're dealing with are songs that create atmosphere and an experience that will appeal, I suspect, to a fairly broad range of Doom and Metal fans. I can't really fault this, as a debut this is a release far beyond its bands nascent years, with a production to match. If you have a passing interest in any of the precedent 'ingredients' then the musical crucible that is 'Ilmasaari' deserves your good attention. The ritual beckons...


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Reviewer's rating: 9/10

Information

Tracklist :
1. Des Siècles Qui Éternellement Séparent Le Corps Mortel De Mon Âme
2. She Was A Witch
3. Celestial
4. Moons
5. These Lights Will Shine On
6. Collide

Duration : Approx. 46 minutes

Visit the Ashtar bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-08-05 by Matt Halsey
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