We have a rare Saturday premiere, for a rare album, with a few words of introduction (okay, more than a few).
Building on the strength of three fine previous releases the Ukrainian atmospheric black metal band Ezkaton has completed a fourth one, a new album named Sheen and Misery. That’s what we’re presenting today through a stream of its 12 songs before the September 2nd release by Ashen Dominion. The title of the album itself reveals a great deal about the music, as does the record’s conceptual premise.
Thematically, as described by the lone creator of Ezkaton, the new album is post-apocalyptic: “Destruction, the power of fire and radiation, drought, infection, all this gradually comes to our world and kills us.”
The atmosphere of the dozen songs reflects that terrible imagining, and the dramatic scale and scope of the envisioned catastrophe. The music creates visions of such world-spanning and world-ending magnitude through crescendos that are wrenchingly intense and panoramic in their sweep. Even in what we might imagine from the music as the aftermath of the silencing of civilization, through shimmering waves of desolate astral ambience and ponderous rhythms, the effect is vast in its reach.
In the most intense passages within the songs, when the drums erupt in fury and the riffing becomes a burning gale of sound, when the harrowing shrieks are at their most tortured, even then the music can seem to soar in displays of tragic grandeur, befitting the magnitude of both the events and the anguish of the dwindling survivors.
Suffering also inhabits the songs in unmistakable fashion. There’s so much heartache in the melodies, so much soft, hopeless grief and severe, shattering pain, that it’s probably impossible to travel through these soundscapes without being driven into night-dark places within your mind. Yet as grim as the conceptual scenarios are, and as persistently heart-breaking as the melodies are, the music is also powerfully spellbinding. Heavy, doom-stricken riffs and craggy bass lines drive us down into blasted earth, the vocals lacerate the mind with razors or shadow it with muttered utterances, but the star-shine above remains wondrous… or maybe its just the unnatural gleam of irradiated clouds.
The spellbinding nature of the music isn’t limited to the slow, gossamer-light moments when crystalline guitars reverberate and flute-like or piano tones ring out, or when cascades of mysterious ambient keyboards shimmer in the heavens. Even when the sound becomes almost overpowering in its zeniths of near-symphonic force and crushing impact, it still manages to mesmerize.
And so, to return to the album’s title, Sheen and Misery makes sense. The music shines, and suffers. There is beauty in these terrible visions, as well as hellish affliction and a sense of the deep despondency that comes from lives so broken that they’re beyond repair.
Twelve songs is a lot to take in, and these aren’t short songs either. But the ebb and flow within them, and the variations in mood and intensity make the full experience enthralling rather than a test of the listener’s endurance. There’s also a calculated flow in the album. The seventh track is a gorgeous cover of Coldworld’s “Tortured By Solitude”, and then the album seems to re-set itself, with a synth-driven, hypnotic piece that functions as an intro to the remaining four tracks, which themselves ebb and flow straight through to the final minute and a half of “Fading Abyss”, an acoustic instrumental that’s as beautiful and as heart-rending as anything that’s come before.
Ashen Dominion will release this excellent creation on CD, as well as through a digital download. It’s available for pre-order now.