Record Swap: Edward Vs. Spear
Today in Record Swap, we’re pitting the mysterious Edward against the even more mysterious Spear. Both opponents have brought their most arcane spell books. Will they turn their deadly curses upon each other, or will they work together to unite mankind in harmony? Find out below! The rules are simple. No research. No foreknowledge. No mercy. – W.
Edward’s Assignment: Nachtterror/Altars of Grief – Of Ash and Dying Light (2015)
Every now and then, I’ll be going through new releases and come across something that grabs my attention and refuses to let go. Perhaps it was because I didn’t expect much from a split by two self-described blackened doom bands, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed both bands. Nachtterror stays on the faster side of things while Altars of Grief bring the album to a depressive crawl, but both make good use of mixed vocal styles and light symphonic elements. Knowing Edward’s tastes tend to be a little more extreme than mine, I decided to send him this split to get his take on something that might lie more within my sphere than his. – Spear
Judging by the cover on Of Ash and Dying Light, I assumed my assignment would be some strange mash up of black metal and tech death. Nachtterror’s logo looks like that of many black metal bands, while Altars of Grief’s bolder logo looks like bands on the tech spectrum. The art appears to be a scene from nature, but the blues and purples color scheme strays from most of the black metal covers I’ve seen. Are those hooded figures or trees? Is there a man in the front wearing a crown of thorns? After squinting at it for several minutes, I pushed play on the album. Turns out I was only slightly correct about the music. Both bands play in and around doom metal the most – think Woods of Ypres rather than Yob.
Nachtterror open up their half of Of Ash and Dying Light with a prolonged, low growl. What follows on “The Breath of the World, Ablaze” is an amalgamation of several styles of metal – chunky doom, death and symphonic black metal combine into a track which varies wildly. The growls give way to mournful clean singing and melodic guitar playing, then reappear underneath. “The Breathe of the World, Ablaze” gains stream into its finale, which somehow maintains its epic feel while instruments are flung into each other at peak velocity. “Upon Ashen Shores” opens with a simple riff, slow drums, and more clean singing. It’s doomier than the first track, more steady; it builds at a consistent rhythm and adds symphonic elements closer to its finish. Its end follows the pattern set before, fast and dramatic.
Altar of Grief’s presence on here makes a lot of sense. They share many similarities with Nachtterror: clean singing mixed with growls and screams, playing a variety of styles over the course of a single song, and music with an epic and emotional sound. They’re a bit more straightforward; the songs are more cohesive on their half of this split. Altar of Grief can take credit for Of Ash and Dying Light’s heaviest moment too, the opening to “Your Heaven” surprised me when it rumbled out of my speakers.
Spear told me the style of these bands wasn’t what he thought I listened to often, and he was correct. I hadn’t heard of either band beforehand (as per our official rules). Nonetheless, this is a solid showing from both bands involved. The setup on this split works. Two long songs for each band, with almost equal time between them. It’s available on Bandcamp for ‘name your price’. – Edward
Black metal has long flirted with the forces of nature, including acts ranging from Ulver to Agalloch to Wolves in the Throne Room. Panopticon recently blazed his listeners with Roads to the North, and Cobalt’s masterpiece Gin showed their interest in Ernest Hemingway. Handshake, Inc recently picked up Ash of Cedars to release their self-titled EP, which Handshake billed as Southern Gothic black metal. My motivation for suggesting Ash of Cedars to Spear for the record swap was selfish in nature, and had little to do with unlocking the enigma of Spear’s taste in music. It was a promo I received early and meant to put to words on more than occasion. I didn’t. Shit happens. It also happens that I have a massive fan-boner for Handshake Inc at the moment, and didn’t want to see Ash of Cedars overlooked on our site. – Edward
Spear’s Assignment: Ash of Cedars – Ash of Cedars (2015)
Ash of Cedars more than deliver the arborous imagery, but in a darker way than their counterparts. The menacing chords and mystic harmonies conjure scenes of a forbidden, twisted path winding through a gnarled and dead forest. The journey brings you to an ancient and forgotten temple nestled in the heart of the woods, ivy crawling up its cracked walls and crumbling spires. There’s a sense of unease pervading the album that’s largely brought forth by the vocalists’ pained shrieks and the drummer’s berserk fills. The production of this whole outing is largely on-point; organic without being too muddy. My one complaint on that front is leveled at the guitar tone on “Anti-Life Venom,” which sounds, for lack of a better word, too throaty. It works when the guitars are each playing single notes, but the chords sound a little off.
The cover art suggests there’s some sort of mechanical element present beside the natural, and indeed there is. The last track, “Mother Satan Bright,” is built on eerie droning noise and feedback. Part of what sounds like another song drifts in a couple times through the track, but it’s gone as quickly as it appears. Some might say that it detracts from the eldritch soundscape; I would argue that it adds to it. It gives me the impression of something wholly otherworldly, something vile, lurking at the edge of structure and order, of civilization. Maybe this isn’t what the band intended with this track, but it’s powerful nonetheless.
If you like your black metal to feel like a heavy jaunt through the forest, then I recommend you give Ash of Cedars a listen. Just don’t expect any sunshine or frolicking. – Spear
There you have it. Black metal magic has been unleashed, and the world will never be the same. Want to get involved in Record Swap? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.