PICK OF THE WEEK: Ashtar’s murky mashing of black metal, molten doom crashes down on ‘Kaikuja’

This day has been one technological failure after another, and considering I don’t handle stress all that well, especially with things that are out of my control, let’s just say the nosebleeds I had tonight were no big surprise. The more bogged down I get, the more I lock down creatively, and then I just have to take time away from the project to forget it exists for a while.

Stress has pretty much been ongoing for the past couple months, which I’m sure is happening with just about everyone, and a battle with it a few weeks ago led me to talking a long secluded walk, and during that excursion, I listened to “Kaikuja,” the second record from Swiss duo Ashtar. Honestly, I wasn’t too familiar with the band—Nadine Lehtinen (vocals, bass, guitar, and violin) and Marko Lehtinen (guitar, bass, drums, vocals)—prior to this record. Hey, even with all the music I hear every week, it does happen. But this experience was an eye-opener, one that revealed a band melding black metal, doom, noise, and plenty of other abrasive elements in a package that really stands out from what a lot of other artists are doing. Ashtar went from a band that lived on the periphery to me to one whose moves I plan to track as they move through their run together as a band. They’re stuck with me.

“Aeolus” begins the record with a blast as Nadine’s shrieks hammers thoroughly before the track gets slower and thicker. It tears open again as a heavy storm while the vocals slice through bone, the pace prods and strikes, and slurry guitars mix out into the end. “Between Furious Clouds” is the longest track here at 13:47, as it starts with clean, lush playing and delicate strings. The song slowly opens into a doomy cauldron as the playing bruises, and strangeness lurks behind the scenes. Darker riffs enter as the speed catches on, the doom underbelly rumbles, and a charging pace meets up with Nadine’s horrifying shrieks that meld together and exit in a blast.

“Bloodstones” begins with riffs striking and ferocious vocals blasting along with them, as the ambience feels ominous and threatening. Nadine’s shrieks smash into mournful melodies, and then things begin to pick up violently. Blades flash as the terror builds, eating away at your psyche until the track finally subsides. “The Closing” slowly drubs as doomy, grimy playing chokes up veins, and Nadine’s voice amplifies the fright. Guitars rain down as a muddy texture makes your footing impossible as doomy riffs collect, and the vocals spit their final nails. “(She is) Awakening” is the closer and starts as menacing and threatening. The pace is calculating as the leads glow, and Nadine’s harsh cries slice the skin. The playing temporarily halts only to usher in echoing guitars and strings that moan like horns. That builds into a strange blaze that chokes you with smoke only to finally fade into a noise squall that swallows everything in sight.

Ashtar’s mix of doom, black metal, and unique atmosphere is on full display on “Kaikuja,” and it’s easy to understand why someone as heralded and respected as Tom G. Warrior heaped praise on this Swiss duo. This is a record that grabbed me from moment one and demanded my undivided attention over its riveting, pounding 40 minutes. This band already has found an audience among the elite of heavy metal, and hopefully more people will hear Ashtar to understand just how devastating they are.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ashtarband

To buy the album, go here: https://store.eisenton.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/

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