(Andy Synn kicks off 2023 with the highly-anticipated new album from Australia’s Ashen)
As I’ve stated before, 2022 was a good year for Death Metal. Occasionally a very good year for Death Metal. But not necessarily a great year for Death Metal.
That being said, there were definitely some albums which hit harder, and aimed higher, than others, and if Ashen‘s debut had been released in December of last year (as it was originally meant to be) it definitely would have ranked among them.
As it stands, however, Ritual of Ash has the distinction of being the first truly great Death Metal record of 2023.
Of course, some may take issue with that statement, especially since the new Obituary album is scheduled for release next week as well, but I’m hopeful that once you’ve listened to this one in full (although you’ll have to wait a little while longer for that opportunity) you’ll end up agreeing with me.
One thing that’s worth pointing out, however, is that unlike some of last year’s more (in)famous artists, Ashen aren’t quite as obsessed with being “Old School” as you might expect (though, if you’ve heard their debut EP, Godless Oath, then this shouldn’t be a huge surprise). Yet, at the same time, they’re not trying to fit in with any of the more “modern” variants either.
Rather, songs like churning charnel-house opener “Ritual” and the razor-sharp “Cursed Rebirth” possess a certain… I was going to say purity, but that has some unpleasant (and elitist) connotations… let’s call it a clarity of vision, a way of seeing and cutting through all the bullshit to imagine a form of Death Metal unencumbered by genre arguments or scene-politics – part slithering Stateside swagger, part buzzsaw Swedish bite, and part gargantuan British groove, all littered with enough dirty hooks to have your local abattoir shut down permanently.
In this sense they remind me a fair bit of Danish death-dealers Bæst – another band responsible for some of the best Death Metal of recent years – especially when it comes to the way in which every track is somehow as cruelly catchy as it is absolutely crushing (the massive, unstoppable momentum of “Harbinger”, for example, has already marked it out as a permanent favourite of mine), with Ashen also incorporating some clever usage of negative space (“Deadsight”), moody melody (“Blood”), and even some subtle synth work to make each track, and the album as a whole, seem bigger and bolder than the mere sum of its parts.
In the end, Ritual of Ash is about as unapologetically heavy, and as unashamedly infectious, as you could ever want Death Metal to be, and the perfect way to kick off a year that will – hopefully – be even better than the last!