Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary by Ashenspire

Release date: January 20, 2017
Label: Code 666

Something has tainted the Brittish waters for a while now. Where across the North Sea lies the original birthplace of black metal, lately this other rugged Island seems to take up the banner. In particular the northern realm of Scotland seems to offer fertile soil for new and exciting bands. Ashenspire is definitely a band joining those ranks.

Without ever trying to copy the Norwegian progenitors, Ashenspire joins bands that have embraced a particular British sound. Musically the four piece from Glasgow is close to the likes of A Forest of Stars and Vulture Industries insofar as having a more decadent, theatrical presentation of their sound. The theme is also rather specific, namely the tragedy and absurdities of British Imperialism. The result is a complex and bewildering listening experience. Call it avant-garde or experimental if you like, Ashenspire definitely is reshaping some frontiers on their debut full length Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary.

Drummer Alasdair Dunn is not a stranger to peculiar bands, having played in folk metal band Norderobring, Falloch and the fascinating Viking Galaxy (yes, about space vikings it seems). In Ashenspire he takes on the vocals too, which leads to an intensity behind his zealous delivery that really gives shape to the direction the songs take. The violin of James Johnson adds another layer of emotion and drama to the music of the band. It’s with strong riffs and a sense of the stage that the band opens on ‘Restless Giants’, before like furious ringmaster the vocals are proclaimed in a style that is somewhere between proclaiming and singing. Threatening and ominous the band delivers their songs.

The poetic lyrics are one of the exceptional elements of this album, but you can’t disconnect them from their overwhelming delivery. The surrounding music is like the stage, the lights, the bright colours, it all works to support the words and their symbolism in a frantic delivery, oft balancing on the edge between anger and deranged rage. On ‘Mariners at Perdition’s Lighthouse’, we have an excellent demonstration of a full on atmospheric sound, where violin and guitars really work together in weaving that wall of sound that the band needs. A solo moment for the violin softens the sound, gives it a harrowing beauty before a chorus of chanting erupts and the maddening vocals of Dunn return. His ever-changing delivery is at the centre of the sound that the Scots have and sometimes seems to clash on purpose with the harmony attained by the instruments.

As demonstrated on the intro of the title track ‘Speak not of the Laudanum Quandary’, where a gentle piano competes with a shredding guitar riff, this record is all about contrasts. About unnerving and challenging the listener. The steady progression of the track is interrupted by the violin a moment later, to force yet another moment of conflict. A record full of beautifully orchestrated music, that leaves the listener not a moment of peace. It might take a few listens for it to take hold, but then you’ve got something unique.

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