Atten Ash - The Hourglass - (9/10)
Published on March 8, 2015
2014 was an amazing year for death metal and now the doom/death subgenre seems to have hit something of a purple patch. We’ve just had Exgenesis’ amazing debut EP, an excellent EP courtesy of Aetherian, Dantalion slipped in a great album just before the end of 2014 and now Atten Ash step up with their debut album, The Hourglass. Atten Ash were founded by James Greene who is the main creative force behind the music. In 2011, he hooked up with Daylight Dies’ guitarist Barre Gambling and recruited growler Archie Hunt to provide the harsh vocals. Their sound is similar to Barre’s other band, as well as doom/death luminaries such as Novembers Doom, Draconian and October Tide, as well as a passing similarity to Opeth’s Ghost Reveries in the more upbeat moments. Combining growls, clean vocals, acoustic guitars and heavy rhythm section is typical of doom/death, but can easily sound contrived, or even dull. Fortunately, Atten Ash know how to use those elements to build a decent tune. Well, eight decent tunes.
The Hourglass was recorded in 2012 and issued as an independent digital release. Then in 2014, Hypnotic Dirge Records approached the band with a view to giving the album a physical release. Hypnotic Dirge’s judgement was solid and releasing this doom/death gem was a great decision on the part of the label.
The album starts with “City In The Sea”, a good example of what Atten Ash are all about, with a nice balance between slow and fast, melodic and heavy, clean singing that sounds almost like Gregorian chant and an excellent guitar solo, but most of what follows is even better. Temporarily dispensing with the clean singing, “See You… Never” raises the bar straight away, a more memorable song all round with another great guitar solo.
Trying to convey emotion in extreme metal is a tricky balance and in the wrong hands can sound pretty lame, but Atten Ash achieve this with aplomb, especially in “Song For The Dead” and the title track, both of which abandon the growls. The former is a huge highlight, with a great, mournful yet memorable chorus and fantastic lead guitar. In contrast, the remarkable “Born” raises the pace and has a massive, rousing clean-sung chorus that is no less memorable than the preceding song.
“First Day” is another track that discards harsh vocals, the singing at times leaning towards Cynic’s sound. It’s the softest track here, despite a heavy rhythm section, with lots of acoustic guitar and while it’s still pretty good, it ends up the somewhat forgettable filling in a sandwich between two monolithic metal masterpieces. “Waves Of Siloam” is pure death metal with barely a trace of doom; an outstanding, extremely catchy song with more truly fantastic, melodic lead guitar. Along with “Born”, these two songs alone are well worth the price of admission.
2015 may end up being an expensive year for doom/death fans and The Hourglass won’t help the bank balance as it’s another brilliant example of the genre. Atten Ash have a gift for writing great songs, with a couple of exceptional ones that show why this band should be taken very seriously. A doom/death tour de force.