I love getting a curveball. Not in baseball. I couldn’t hit one for shit when I was younger and playing a semblance of organized ball, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t hit one now. But yeah, instead I mean when something comes at me I don’t expect and it causes me to have a bizarre reaction. Getting records like that is a ton of fun, and they don’t come along nearly enough for my liking.
When I do get them, generally there are reliable labels behind them, like the one we have today served up by Handshake Inc. Ash of Cedars piqued my interests right away simply because of who was releasing the music, but then I dug into this band and their self-branded Southern Gothic black metal and found a whole new world to a sub-genre I have grown to love and equally dread. So many bands pay lip service to offering their own unique angle on black metal, and so many come out sounding like so many other things already out there. But Ash of Cedars is different. They’re loud, crazed, frightening and enlightening in the same breath, and truly worth your time. Their first, self-titled effort, released on cassette and digitally, is 26 minutes of wonder that’ll leave you in the soot and wondering just how you got there in the first place.
Ash of Cedars is comprised of folks from other bands many of you likely know well, including Rwake, Snakedriver, Epoch of Unlight, and Vore. The members of this band—CT on vocals, Dustin Weddle and Jeff Morgan on guitars, Skullcrusher on bass, and Tino LoSicco on drums—seem to channel their surroundings in Little Rock, AR., expertly. There is a feel of being alone on the ground, staring into the endless cosmos, hearing trees blowing in the breezes as a stormfront approaches, and realizing you are utterly vulnerable to nature. The music is scuffed up, blazing, and obviously from their black hearts and souls. Even if you can’t decipher all of the mangled words, the music and way the lines are delivered smash into your psyched and take you on a battered trip along with them.
The album opens with “All Dies” that has guitars wailing and calling, wild growls smeared over top that, and eruptions of sound that might as well be blood crashing the walls of the heart. The chaos is thick and apparent, but there is melody mixed in as well, giving this thing different shades of color. “Anti-Life Venom” reveals itself from its very title, with dark riffs boiling, riveting playing, and feral vocals absolutely going for the kill. The melodies bruise and smother, with total madness spilling forth, and the finger-tapped guitar shooting sparks. The anguish and frustration flows freely, and as the song approaches its back end, all noise elements swell and tear open like a cloud. “I’m Not Done” pays off that promise of spacey wonder, as the first minutes could leave you feeling disoriented. The growls are harsh and battering, but that star swoosh never is far behind, sweeping you up into dreamscape. The final moments strike delirium, with the guitars crashing down on you, and the drums pulverizing your bones into mere powder. You may find this one has an unforgiving lingering effect.
The second side starts with “Sun Invert,” where guitars glimmer and cause you to shield your eyes, and the band takes its time to set up the piece and conjure a proper mood. Once that atmosphere is achieved, the band lets loose, with the vocals exploding from CT’s mouth, the background getting smeared in blood, and the riffs crashing down hard. The assault is monstrous and impossible to duck, and later on, the guitars start to buzz, driving you to the brink of mental breakdown and only holding you back from the very edge for reasons only they know. The bizarre closer “Mother Satan Bright” is an instrumental track that could have your brain swelling and your thoughts betraying you. Sounds quiver as eerie synth patterns repeat themselves, creating what could be the ultimate soundtrack to an alien abduction. The noises pour on mechanically, with chilling sounds hovering, almost as if it aims to open a vault into the ground so hell and damnation can release themselves and burn the Earth’s crust to a crisp. It’s an unexpected ending to a record that keeps you guessing wrong.
Ash of Cedars are a band that deserves your attention, and what they offer on this quick self-titled debut is a trip to another dimension, where the beatings do commence but leave you mentally stimulated along with your bloody wounds. It’s great to hear a band take black metal and manipulate it to its agenda, warp the roots, and damn the codes. This is just the start of a mission that doesn’t reveal very much beyond its prologue. You’re left to guess where it goes, and if it sends you charging blind into the night, your final destination unknown, at least you know it’ll pay off your every curiosity and test your will like few other metal bands seem to do.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ash-of-Cedars/262469727097733
To buy the album, go here: https://handshakeinc.bandcamp.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://handshakeinc.com/