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Atten Ash : The Hourglass

Atten Ash finally get a well-deserved CD release of their 2012 Death/Doom debut.

Atten Ash hail from North Carolina, and both they and this debut album have been around longer than you might think. Originally founded by James Greene - clean vocals, guitar, bass, drums - the line-up was completed in 2011 by Barre Gambling (founder of Daylight Dies, amongst others) on guitars and keyboards, along with growl vocalist Archie Hunt (from Black Metallers Legion Of The Fallen). The trio then went on to complete Greene's initial compositions, then record and digitally self-release 'The Hourglass' in 2012. It would be fair to say that it didn't meet with astronomic success at the time, though it did reach the ear of independent Canadian label Hypnotic Dirge Records at some point, leading to this 2015 re-release.

Essentially the same 2012 material, with running order shifted around a little, 'The Hourglass' now comes as a tidily-presented digipack with booklet insert. Layout photos, a mixed collection of suitably moody black-and-white images, were supplied by (EchO)'s drummer Paolo, and form a backdrop to the included lyrics. A simple scan of that presentation will give you a pretty good idea what to expect: aside from the opening 'City In The Sea' (adapted from Poe's poem of the same name), the tracks cover a gamut of familiar topics - isolation, pain, futility, the inevitability of death - and reading them reveals a style and format which straightaway conjures the thought of them being delivered by Jonas Renkse.

Indeed, that early Katatonia style of melancholic guitar-and-vocal-led Death/Doom is basically where Atten Ash set their starting point, though the full and mature, melodic sound points just a little further forward than the usual 'Brave Murder Day' likeness: think more along the lines of 'Discouraged Ones', or even 'Tonight's Decision'. And if that sounds something like the way you'd describe Daylight Dies, there's a good reason for that, and not exclusively because of the overlap in guitarists: both bands fall quite squarely in the 'European sound' bracket. Atten Ash, particularly, even come quite close to Draconian's atmospheric, Gothic sound in places - though the latter's sister-band Doom: Vs is perhaps a more consistent comparator.

But that's (more than) enough on the name-dropping front: yes, this'll be well-known territory to most - the important thing is, though, how well it's traversed. And in this respect, Atten Ash are playing with the full deck. As expected, veteran guitarist Gambling is a huge asset, always ready to cut loose with a trademark soaring guitar lead to liven things up. Less of a foregone conclusion is the presence of the lesser-known members, but there, too, they score high. Greene's compositions, bar the occasional overindulgent passage, are strong, mixing up the slow and stately atmospheric moments with pacier interjections, finding room for choral features and keyboard inserts: maintaining the essentially depressive, bleakly emotional pressure of the music without ever allowing it to become stale or tedious. The raw, strained growled vocals of Hunt contribute a powerful and welcome contrast to Greene's more lamenting, plaintive clean tones; the balance between the two again helping to keep the album from the monotony that can plague weaker examples of the genre.

In fact, there isn't a weak track on 'The Hourglass': they all have something of interest to offer, generally in the interplay between guitar leads and riffs to shape the progress of the song, or in the emotive vocal shadings - even when those, paradoxically, are delivered with an almost deadpan lack of nuance. That's used to good effect in the harsh parts of 'Born', whose complex, changing tapestry provides my personal highlight, though the slow and sadly majestic title track and the growling misery of 'See You...Never' come close to taking that title.

There are some minor criticisms which could be made: I would have liked a little more spaciousness and clarity to the mix (there's no mention of remastering, so this is presumably the original sound, and sometimes feels a little indistinctly compacted). The drums err somewhat on the lightweight: whether they are actually programmed isn't stated, but there's certainly some of that mechanical, high-treble deadness to them, and the occasional fallback to some high-bpm pounding at oddly distracting moments. Finally, for those who highly value originality: the longest suit here is definitely great execution of the familiar, rather than innovation into the unique. They are quite petty niggles, though, and ones which shouldn't seriously divert anyone in search of a refreshing fix of Death/Doom that can sit comfortably beside established classics. To me, the only mystery is how this didn't gain more acclaim initially: let's hope this reissue, deservedly, corrects that particular injustice.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. City In The Sea
2. See You...Never
3. Not As Others Were
4. Song For The Dead
5. Born
6. First Day
7. Waves Of Siloam
8. The Hourglass

Duration : Approx. 56 minutes

Visit the Atten Ash bandpage.

Reviewed on 2015-02-15 by Mike Liassides
Rotten Copper
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