When this one came in for review I noticed that the label had not exactly given us much lead time before release date so decided to download it quickly and make it a priority. I had never heard of the Australian band and that’s no surprise as they only have a single and EP a couple of years prior to this debut album. I thought going sight unheard as such would be an interesting way to proceed and it could be my soundtrack over the next few days. That’s where things could have gone so wrong as on first listen I discovered that this seven tracker weighs in at a whopping 77 minutes, the first track alone taking up 20 of them. That’s an awful lot of drone but on playing I luckily realised that there isn’t much of that in this, then again there’s not a lot of hope either!
‘Unending Grey’ that monstrous opener does not screw about in the slightest and after a slight droning intro it literally hammers and batters away like a storm has hit and is going to crush everything in its path. The band adopt a post blackened fervour with humongous swaggering, layered up passages of brutality that surge ever forward, pretty much knocking you off your feet. Vocals are in the background a bit but are snappy disgruntled and pissed off with it accompanying the windswept tumult of the music well. There’s a feel that is certainly reminiscent of the Cascadian bands such as Wolves In The Throne Room although this strikes as much more dramatic than they can be on album as well as earlier Altar Of Plagues. Just as you are getting acclimatised to the storming drive things drop out and the track goes into a long, lush, cinematic instrumental soundscape. It is here that the Hope I mentioned is abandoned, this is bleak and incredibly atmospheric stuff and it reeks to my imagination of struggling survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape. I am reminded of those tones of hopelessness from 28 Days Later and this has the sound of the likes of Godspeed You Black Emperor, along with a gentler Neurosis drift about it and it’s a long road to tread proffering little in the way of redemption at its end. Naturally as expected the violent barrage was bound to eventually hone in again before conclusion but this section is both captivating and enthralling. The danger with a track and indeed an album of such magnitude is of it becoming stale and boring but Cloak Of Ash manages to completely engage from beginning to end (and I should mention this is my second listen to it today).
Halving the running time on the rest of the tracks does not make this volcano any less volatile and it carries on spitting out its lava with fiery precision on tracks such as the poetically entitled ‘Riverbeds Hewn in Marrow.’ Fast tremolo riffing, barking vocals and thundering drums have the seething water boiling over and stewing in its own juices, the melodic thrust of the number powering away and really embedding itself in your head before the cataclysm again breaks allowing some breathing space amidst the more expansive instrumental passage. And so the two different facets within the sound continue merging in precise duality although sounding at different ends of the spectrum. This is no review to paw over each individual song although they have different nuances the overall effect is similar as a combined whole. This is very much an album you are going to immediately love or be completely indifferent of depending no doubt on what you are prepared to give it in return. Surprisingly considering things I did find it a very immediate listen and not an album that really needed stacks and stacks of plays to get to the root of. Just as well really but this was something I was not expecting.
One part of the album that I found particularly effective is penultimate instrumental number ‘The Waves Forever Shatter Upon Our Shores.’ It’s a really intense ride of a track with everything building into a fast and frenzied climatic mass. It strikes as being perfect for the conclusion of the album but no the band keep on playing with a final slice of negativity really dragging everything down to the depths and seemingly playing with the listener who may well have thought they had finally escaped their grasp.
(8/10 Pete Woods)