AhamkaraPerhaps their moniker is a reference to Hindu philosophy or, less likely, the dragon-like creature in the massively multiplayer first-person shooting videogame Destiny. One thing is for certain, Ahamkara sure know how to get under your skin. They are Newcastle-Upon-Tyne duo, multi-instrumentalist Michael Blenkarn (The Axis of Perdition, Wodensthrone) and vocalist Steven Black and for their first trick, they have produced a debut album that combines the qualities of dark ambient, drone and second-wave black metal with varying degrees of success.

Within the four tracks, all stretching their way past the ten-minute mark, Ahamkara draw strength from the classic black triad of raw production, extended sections of pummelling double-kick and resonating shrieks to impose a sense of death, dread and the afterlife upon proceedings. What marks out their music though is the glowing underbelly of warm, atmospheric layers. They use soft progressions, ethereal synths and colour the piece with thick, resonant basslines.

Opener “Midwinter’s Hymn” casts you out on the open Arctic tundra with only the caterwauling of a wraith for company. Black’s vocal comes as if from the netherworld, distant and removed from the body of the instrumentation. Eventually, the howling winds calm and the track begins to stretch out into evocative passages of guitar and synth. With all four songs fused together by the elemental sounds of nature – running water, lapping waves and rushing wind – there is an elegant, organic theme running along the spine of the music.

On the downside, there are some instances where the rosier tones bring about an odd clashing between the harsher edges and rich body. Nowhere is this more noticeable than within the strands of “On The Shores Of Defeat” where the harmony between the two begins to collapse. Happily, the visceral minor chords of “Lamentation Of A Wraith” return you to the dark side and drip-feed you a series of orchestral, even symphonic, affectations to build the concept of being within an immense space. At this point they drop their mesmeric trump card, “To Invoke The Stars Themselves”, and cut you loose to drift through the vasts of space; to meet your tormentor; to complete the journey and free your inner demons.

At its nadir The Embers Of Stars meets its inherent failings head on and at its zenith it becomes something far more conducive than the sum of its parts. Certainly, fans of Emperor, Arcturus, Anathema, Enslaved or Ulver should all be able to draw strength from the monumental aesthetics on display.

(7/10 John Skibeat)