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Friday, January 1, 2016

Review: Amber Asylum - Sin Eater

Amber Asylum is a United States based band formed in the nineties, evolving around composer, soprano vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kris Force. Through the years she has had an impressive list of musicians who helped out with her various releases. The current members, beside Kris, are Fern Lee Alberts on bass, Sarah Rosalena Brady on viola, Becky Hawk on drums and voice and Jackie Perez Gratz on cello. Despite the band name anyone who would think they play any form of metal or even rock would be grossly mistaken, Amber Asylum is a heavy in a totally different way. In the far distance you might hear some post-rock influences, but that is all you get when it comes to traditional heaviness. When you approach this as a metal or rock album it probably would get really low rates.


It is neither, so I of course will approach it as what it really is: a neoclassical darkwave album. That pretty much changes everything of course. No raging solos, thumping bass lines, blast beats, grunts or neck-breaking riffs. In fact, consider yourself challenged to find a riff at all. ‘Sin eater’, named after the ritual that involves eating a meal over a deceased person’s body in order to take over his or her sins enabling the spirit to rest in peace, impresses the unsuspecting listener in a much more spiritual way. In the first part it gives you dark, neoclassical chamber music, with an overall feeling of melancholy, comparable with the heavy, grievous atmosphere you often find in funeral doom, perfectly implemented in the structure of the songs. The second half of the album is completely different, less coherent, more focused on soundscapes and noises, but I’ll get to that later.

The opener is fittingly named ‘Prelude’ considering that is exactly what it sounds like. Violin and cello supplementing each other, resulting in a slow, mystifying tune, which immediately takes you into the abysmal depths of one’s inner thoughts, seamlessly blending into ‘Perfect calm’. This song is like the tides, slowly and subtly building to a climax on the flowing tunes of the violin and cello and the soothing voice of Kris, accompanied by a strong rhythm section. And again like the tides, the song fades away just as slow and subtly. Pretty much the same can be said from ‘Beast star’.

Then there’s time for some sort of intermezzo, because next up is a cover of Candlemass’ ‘TOT’ in which, even though the rough edges have been polished somewhat, there’s a distinct change from the previous songs. After what could be considered a misleadingly slow start if you’re not familiar with the song, it’s different, higher pace, wakes you from the dream you were in during the first three songs. It’s a haunting cover of an already unnerving song, and as such really good, but I think I would have preferred the song at the end of the album. It broke the flow and the magic the album had at the time a little in my opinion, but that might very well be intentional.

You are allowed some time to recover from the relative power of ‘TOT’ with the next song, ‘Harvester’, which slowly, almost unnoticed, drifts into your consciousness with its pleasant rhythm. ‘Paean’, next in line, is a relative short song which would not be out of place on the soundtrack of an epic fantasy movie. And right after that they start to lose me somewhat. The final two songs on the album are both over ten minute pieces of work, in which the soothing, mystifying tunes are exchanged for more incoherent rhythms, or better, soundscapes, with a distinct experimental aspect to them. I have no problem with experimental music whatsoever, but to me it doesn’t fit on this album, at least not in this style.

‘Executioner’, the first of the double starts with a five-minute outer space-ish intro, the meaning of which I’m completely oblivious to. It does build up to a fair song, but only after nine minutes or so, but even then I have a hard time keeping focused. Title song and album-closer ‘Sin eater’ has a Tubular Bells kind of intro that more or less gets pushed away by a rhythm that gives you the feeling something evil is coming your way. That evil proves to be rather disappointing, considering it’s in the form of some sort of psychedelic sequence of sounds that to me resemble robotic noises more than anything else.

‘Sin eater’, as you might have figured out, is an album with two faces. For the most part it consists of neoclassical compositions, which are perfect tunes for any kind of mood. Like alcohol they strengthen the mood you’re in, making you either wallow in self-pity, or cry with happiness. The other part has the more experimental songs, made of soundscapes that have been woven into compositions that make it hard for me to keep paying attention to them. Personally I could do without the two closing songs, but I am certain there’s people who will enjoy them and that is of course what counts. However, despite the fact such relatively long, complex, incoherent songs are undoubtedly ably composed, their numbers will be limited, I’m afraid.

Nevertheless I have no regrets I had to review this album, because the neoclassical songs more than make up for what I dislike in the last two songs. If you like music that will enhance both your dark and your bright side, you should give this a shot.

Written by Henric van Essen

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