Drown In Ash is a bleak and beautiful passage of music, where the band stand as pallbearers, bringing you through that final journey, with all the dignity and respect that their music bestows. It’s desolate and it’s forlorn, but beneath those darkened cloaks, there's an uplifting and monumental slab of metal to be discovered
This week I’ve been completely absorbed and aurally battered by Ireland's very own Eternal Helcaraxe, and their forthcoming release Drown In Ash. Vicious blast beats, scowling vocals and blizzard-driven guitars whip up a frenzy of post-black atmospherics that manifest into a maelstrom of forlorn melancholia. This style of music resonates with every part of my being, from sullen moments of contemplation to soaring blackened highs, Eternal Helcaraxe have mastered and tailored the black metal genre by crossing imaginary boundaries of blackgaze, post-metal and even classical music to bring us an album that doesn't follow the pack but leads by example.
Withered Strands Of Existence opens the album with a solemn piano that laments the senses with its simple but sorrowful tone, only to be severed by an onslaught of a harrowing cry and a tirade of beautifully harmonic guitars and power-driven percussions. On first listen I couldn't help but make comparisons with St. Petersburg’s post-black titans TRNA and Show Me A Dinosaur, but also some of the modern-day black metal bands like White Ward or Gaerea, and some Primordial thrown in for good measure, all good company to be in by the way! Laced with blistering pace and hapless melodies, these guys can bring a track from 0 – 10 with ease. The underpinned riff remains throughout, hypnotic at times, but always fierce.
The title track Drowned In Ash gallops forth with great conviction through a barrage of shredded guitars and a wicked bass. Almost euphoric in places, the track can reach these moments of great celestial splendour through a haunting chant that carries through every riff and drumbeat. It must be up there come December as one of my favourite tracks of the year. Even Where Dead Things Roam Free must be considered, with its vicious tremolo riffs that erupt into a vocal onslaught of venom and bile. Even as the track changes pace and the vocals sing the words “I don't dwell in the darkness, the darkness dwells inside me. An abandoned library of forgotten words that meant something once”, everything is still high on intensity and drama.
None Of It Mattered is basically three minutes of stark, cold piano keys, but having said that it’s a welcome interlude and a clever move when you consider the highly charged pace of what has been before it. What it also does is give tracks like Ice Cold Winds and Cease a clean slate, a tabuls rasa so to speak, to allow them to begin another chapter in this black metal masterclass. Tormented black metal tongue lashings are joined by the deathly guttural growls on Cease, adding another dimension to this already multi-layered tour de force.
The epilogue to this journey comes in the shape of In Dark Woods And Dreams, and it maintains the relentless pace and power that adorned the rest of the album. Those melody driven riffs still ring fierce and potent, reminding me of the hooks that Amon Amarth have mastered. Lyrics like “In dark woods and dreams, divorced from the heart, desolation a drowning solace, concealing sentimental venom” show the pain and torment that’s strewn across this track. Lush basslines and dreaded whispers break the track down to a canter, a mid-tempo slog, before unleashing hell one final time, and closing on a synthesised wave of relief and wonder, both in equal measure.
Eternal Helcaraxe may be pigeonholed as a black-metal outfit, but there are just so many other strings to their bow. They have incorporated so many musical styles into this album, and thankfully it has all kneaded together beautifully. Drown In Ash is a bleak and beautiful passage of music, where the band stand as pallbearers, bringing you through that final journey, with all the dignity and respect that their music bestows. It’s desolate and it’s forlorn, but beneath those darkened cloaks, there's an uplifting and monumental slab of metal to be discovered.