Amber Asylum take even darker turn, look at ritualistic death ceremony on riveting ‘Sin Eater’

Photo by Pony Gold

Photo by Pony Gold

All of us are going to die one day, and all of us are going to take sins along with us. We don’t have to go the religious level when talking about sins (that’s another argument we don’t care to make on this site), and instead we can look at things we do wrong in our lives, be that in general, to ourselves, or to other people. Or all of those things combined.

The concept of a sin eater is one that has spanned the ages. There are many different ways this has played out over the centuries, and the practice still exists today, with the idea being extinguishing the dead of his or her sins. A common practice is the sin eater will consume a meal or death cake that is placed on the dead person’s chest, thus devouring the person’s sins and setting them free. That is a major element behind the songs on the incredible new Amber Asylum record, fittingly called “Sin Eater,” and the music they make on these dramatic, sweltering songs can arrest you and take you underneath the darkness that envelops this collection. This seventh record in their catalog puts a gigantic exclamation point at the end of the band’s two decades together, and it’s one hell of a mesmerizing step into their future.

Amber Asylu cover“Sin Eater” is the first record Amber Asylum has registered since 2009’s excellent “Bitter River.” The band, led by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kris T. Force, is one that has helped weave a strong tie between heavy metal, folk, and classical music. None of what the band does is particularly heavy in the traditional sense. But their music has a weight you cannot deny, and its power registers as hard as ever on “Sin Eater,” which is one of the best things they’ve ever released. Amber Asylum have had myriad great artists play with the band over their run, but on this record the players along with Force are Fern Lee Alberts on bass; Sarah Rosalena Brady on viola; Becky Hawk on drums and voice; and long-time member Jackie Perez Gratz (Grayceon, Giant Squid), who is featured throughout the record on cello. They combine for a great effort that I’ve listened to repeatedly since getting the album a month or so ago, and I don’t see those visits ceasing.

The record opens with the 11:35 “Perfect Calm” that has strings stretching and quivering, with each element of the song joining as it goes along. The bass churns below, with Force’s singing blending in at the 4:35 point, her high-register calls causing the hair on your arms to stand. The song slowly bleeds, with the strings later getting louder and more boisterous, and undeniably doomy melodies barrel in, unleashing black curtains, and pushin on until the track fades. “Beast Star” has an ominous vibe, as it feels like the end slowly is creeping up on you, which, of course, it is. The vocals are enrapturing, while the strings keep cutting tributaries in the skin to let the blood flow. Then, the huge surprise of the record drops in the form of a cover of Candlemass’ “TOT.” This version is daunting and beautiful, an incredible reimagination of the classic cut that fits right into the narrative perfectly and is one of the most breath-taking moments of the entire musical calendar. In fact, as the song reaches its final stretch, the band lets loose, the drums rollick, and the strings charge up and hammer home the song’s punishing riffs. “Harvester” runs 9:12 and opens in a field of drone, with wordless melodies swirling in the air. The high and low voices mix together and sting, while the intensity builds as the song moves on. The pace gets pushier, the drums start to leave welts, and the singing drizzles a glaze over the track as it slowly fades into the night.

“Paean” is a shorter one, a passage setting you up for the final two epics. Here, strings strike a murky note, while the bass plods along through thick waters, melodies slide over top, and the feeling of chilling beauty is impossible to shake. “Executioner” runs a healthy 12:59 with guitars ringing, sounds blistering like industrial engines, and the bass buzzing and gushing. The pace simmers and gives off steam, while the signing blends in and gives the track a disorienting feel and leaves you dizzy. The high and low vocals tangle once again, while the track opens up more and lets guitars scorch the terrain. A psychedelic haze rises up and shrouds the final moments of the song in a cloud of smoke. The closing title track is the strangest, most mystifying of the bunch, as it works to stymie over its 12:42. Strings slice and melt into a psyche synth haze, while a trippy, out-of-body essence takes over the song, almost as if you’re watching the ritual in spirit form from the ceiling. Key zap and twist, making the song feel even more otherworldly, while strings are thrashed and agitated, cosmic sounds blurt out, and the ceremony finally draws to a conclusion, with the sins devoured, and your journey at its end.

Amber Asylum always find a way to tell darker tales and make alluring music that no one else in the world is creating. “Sin Eater” not only visits the process of a death ritual and prods thinking of our inevitable ends, but it unfurls in a way that makes that concept more mysterious and engaging. There are so many reason to love and continually visit with this record, and it’s going to be a perfect companion as days coming grow darker and colder.

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