(We present Andy Synn’s review of the new EP by the Australian black metal band Claret Ash, released yesterday via Bandcamp.)
Do you feel that? That faint, but growing, tingling on the back of your neck? That slowly developing sense of dread?
If you’re a writer/reviewer like me, you’ll recognise it almost immediately. That’s the sensation that time is running out, that the year is almost over, and yet there’s still so much left unsaid and unwritten.
And while I’m slowly starting to put together my usual yearly round-up to be published next month, I’m also still trying my hardest to award some coverage (and criticism) to as many albums and EPs as possible before the inevitable completion of the current solar cycle.
So, without further ado… here’s some rambling thoughts on the new EP by Aussie Black Metallers Claret Ash.
As the first part of a planned pair of EPs (eventually to be collected into a single physical release simply entitled The Great Adjudication), Fragment One (as it will henceforth be referred to) showcases the band embracing a sound that is noticeably less polished and that little bit more raw than their (highly underrated) previous album, but which still retains a pleasing crispness and clarity to it… not to mention some increasingly proggy under/overtones.
Opener “Essence of Fire” is a clear statement of intent that will doubtless appeal to both long-term fans and new listeners, condensing as it does the key elements of the band’s sound – bone-rattling blasts, corrosive vocals, and menacing metallic guitars brimming with both malice and melody – into just under seven minutes of blistering blackened belligerence, while also incorporating a surprisingly introspective progressive undercurrent.
Follow-up “Devolution” is reminiscent of classic, Gaahl-era Gorgoroth, all big riffs and bruising grooves, punctuated by sudden eruptions of blasting intensity and bold splashes of melodic colour, that deftly balances both atmosphere and aggression in equal measure, while “The Noose” paints things in an even darker hue, recalling a nastier take on latter-day Naglfar, or perhaps a more dynamic, less blast-obsessed version of Der Weg Einer Freiheit.
Convenient name-dropping aside, Claret Ash are still very much their own entity, and one of the strongest aspects about Fragment One is how it feels very much as though it were written in a vacuum, untouched and unsullied by either the prevailing trends or the insistent pressure to prove the band’s “trveness”.
As a result, although the music contained here doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel entirely, it effortlessly succeeds in putting its own spin on things, with the intertwining guitar and bass work of Pearse, Edmeades, and McCauley bringing to bear a seething blend of metallic savagery and melodic subtlety, while the drum work of Stuart Nulty manages to be both powerful and nuanced as needed.
Closing out the EP, penultimate track “Plague Bearer” finds the quartet focussing in on the heavier, harsher aspects of their sound, employing a plethora of riveting riffs and scything tremolo runs to impressive effect, before “The Gyre” – eight minutes of doom and gloom, sound and fury – wraps the whole thing up in a thrilling display of brooding blackened brilliance and potent, prog-tinged power.
If the band can maintain this level of quality with the release of Fragment Two next year, then there’s a good chance that The Great Adjudication may end up being one of 2018’s finest releases.