Celestial Ruin – Pandora
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Label: Revalve Records
In Pandora, Celestial Ruin construct their sound on a foundation of production, drama, and mood building. The excellent production creates a clean slate that allows each element of the music to shine, something that in symphonic rock/metal is extremely important. Lead singer Larissa Dawn takes command in the lower-register with a voice loaded with rasp, but still capable of flying away on soaring highs. The drama comes in orchestral pops that raise excitement and anticipation for what is to come. A disciplined hand applies the theatrics ensuring the techniques avoid becoming gimmicky or overdone. The drums and guitars take advantage of the generated hype to lay down beats and riffs that have flavours of Orden Ogan and Dragonland. The mood rings through in every song as Celestial Ruin construct an atmosphere of anxiety and desperation. Even their song about pirate warfare maintains a serious tone that leaves the audience uneasy and biting their nails.
My one complaint about Pandora is that the songs feel disconnected from each other. While a consistent mood runs throughout, the songs still seem to have no relation to one another. Granted, each track is solid on its own merits, but the overall performance lacks the interconnectivity to pull it all together.
While Celestial Ruin may struggle with crafting a mighty cohesive performance, they showcase talent for intricate construction and direction. Also, their ability to convey mood in such a convincing and effective manner is commendable. For those interested in a tight and purposeful symphonic rock performance, Pandora is worth looking into.
Ashbringer – Yügen
Label: Avantgarde Music
Following up on their debut album from last year, Vacant, Ashbringer have stepped up with this prompt follow-up. Whereas Vacant was put together solely by Nick Stanger, Ashbringer have since expanded to a quintet, with Stanger handling vocals, guitar, and atmospheric engineering. Running just about an hour over eight tracks, Y?gen forms a showcase for the new line-up, and the results paint them as one to watch.
Having not heard their first album (yet), I can’t comment on how Y?gen stacks up against it; however, judged on its own merits, the group has put together a solid set of chilly black metal with an emphasis on atmosphere. Rather than shred and howl away without mercy, Ashbringer make use of highly melodic intervals (some featuring basically unornamented acoustic guitar) as contrast for the violent sections, in ways that reminded me of Agalloch’s The Mantle and Pale Folklore, or Battle Path‘s Ambedo for a more contemporary comparison.
One of the few downsides to the music is that the harsh vocals occasionally tread the line of sounding like something those damn teenagers might be listening to, though that’s a tricky border when trying to scream in an intelligible fashion. On the positive side, those wavers are infrequent to begin with, and some of their instances are balanced against deeper counter-point for a level of harmonic complexity beyond the initial associations. The songs themselves are impressive in their range and fluidity, as well as being generally effective in the moodiness they seek to evoke, though there are a few moments here and there in which the elaborate arrangements, enjoyable as they are, make for a bit of overkill. Another point in the band’s favor is that they use each song as a testing ground for certain elements (e.g., soaring wordless vocals in the title track, semi-medieval instrumentation in “Omen”) instead of jamming them in album-wide (though several get brought back for final track “Glowing Embers, Dying Fire”); it gives the songs an extra piece of distinction while letting the band get a practical sense of how they would work in larger deployment.
Altogether, it’s a great effort by the band, and while there is room for them to push things further with the next album, there’s not really any glaring problems to have listeners grumbling over what should have been done. It’s something to be enjoyed in its own way, and it provides a generous amount of material for that purpose.