The year is 1850, cholera and dysentery run rampant through European communities. Laudanum probably seemed like lightening in a bottle. A working class drug, easing everything from colds and meningitis to cardiac disease, and all for less than a bottle of gin. The year is 2017, Ashenspire hail from Glasgow (Scotland) and like their British / Norwegian counterparts (A Forest of Stars / Vulture Industries), Ashenspire deliver a brand of avant-garde black metal that makes you sit up and take notice. Clad in a single-breasted frock coat, Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary tells of the harrowing odyssey of British imperialist tragedy using 7 lengthy tracks. Will Ashenspire‘s debut prove the bitter-sweet tincture that cures my black metal woes?

“Restless Giants” makes a spasmodic entrance, transitioning through static, mechanical noise and ultimately settling into a choppy and violent guitar riff. Alasdair Dunn, the creative director and diabolical mastermind behind Ashenspire, ushers in the theatrical flourish reinforced by a string of floating violin melodies. Not only does Dunn provide dramatic vocalization middling somewhere between speech and song, but he also pounds the skins – not something a lot of vocalists can pull off with success. Dunn’s vocal delivery has similarities to Dan Eyre (AKA Mister Curse, A Forest of Stars), but Dunn is capable of more abandon. The track progresses through urgent blackened chaos opposed by quietude, consolidating in a blend of A Forest of Stars and Vulture Industries with the hidden jazzy innuendo of Diamanda Galas.

“The Wretched Mills,” though heavier, enters with the doom-like elegance of a New Keepers of the Water Towers progression. Things quickly take a turn to the peculiar, with Dunn’s vocals resembling those of Yusaf Parvez (Dødheimsgard). These abrasive expressions, the vexing and distorted fretwork, the oddly measured pulse, are rivaled by a passage that would be more at home on a melodic death doom album, and “The Wretched Mills is a hapless curse that works. My only objection to what Ashenspire are doing by this point, is that the tracks are too long, a point of issue that plagues the remainder of Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary. A Forest of Stars‘ A Shadowplay for Yesterdays worked so perfectly, because the lengthier tracks were broken up and separated by a range of shorter tracks. Ashenspire have fewer tracks, but all hit around the seven to twelve minute mark barring one. This makes for a fatiguing listening experience with fewer rest stops to gather one’s bearings.

“Mariners at Perdition’s Lighthouse” has a few moments where Ashenspire mirror the guitar lines with those of the violin, creating something quite fascinating. “Grievous Bodily Harmonies” uses the violin bow to quite literally saw away at your nerves, a harrowing and ongoing experience, only rivaled by the shift of power between Dunn’s screams and his Old Dead Tree-like monotone. “A Beggar’s Belief” uses fire and brimstone, and the metallic rattle of a beggar’s money tin to shackle itself to your memory. Ashenspire has a distinctive schema that dictates the direction of Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary, and into this they infuse their eccentricity.

Like A Forest of Stars this means that no one particular song stands out as a keeper, but in fact the entire album must play out from start to finish to be properly appreciated – Hell to those that want to add Ashenspire to a specific playlist. If I were hard-pressed to pick a playlist track, it would be the title track. Opening with what sounds like it could be the practicing keystrokes of say, French pianist Richard Clayderman, the song goes from feverish to nothing. Cycling through complex and energetic drum rhythms, ultimately developing a Devil Doll whimsicality by featuring a jazzy piano melody that alludes to Vincent Anthony Guaraldi, known for his innovative compositions for the animations of the Peanuts animations.

Ashenspire‘s Speak Not of the Laudanum Quandary is a definite grower, with only a single track (“Fever Sheds”) serving no purpose. My initial impressions led me to believe that Alasdair Dunn’s ever-changing vocal delivery seemed wearing and often barely listenable. But after near on two weeks of listening and delving into Dødheimsgard, I understand that discomfort and irritation was the whole point. Today, I find myself intrigued by Dunn’s lyric choices and his over the top delivery, wanting to listen to this album for extended periods of time, and maybe even on occasion picking it over A Shadowplay for Yesterdays. This is a win!

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Code666
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: January 20th, 2017

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  • Feytalist

    Not the biggest fan of the vocals, but the music is pretty interesting. Nice Diamanda Galas namedrop there :D

    You know what the opening track reminds me of? Dornenreich.

    • It took me a while to move past his “cleans”. After 2 weeks of bitching I had to concede that they grew on me.

  • AlphaBetaFoxface

    this is ridiculously messy stuff. i’ll stick with archspire for now; finding the band’s whole shtick to be somewhat pretentious (if i am allowed to use that word). not bad, just not particularly good. for some reason, it is bringing to mind Entheos’ “Ototeman” from 2015. worth checking out if this sort of avant-garde-y sound tickles your fancy.

    • I’ll check Ototeman out, thanks!

    • Felchmeister777

      Just checked that out and, ironically, found it pretty messy. It’s moderately progressive ‘post-metal’ I thought.

      Nothing at all like Ashenspire, either thematically or musically to my ears. There were traces of Ved Buens End in there I guess, but the serpentine riffing style isn’t nearly as classy & there were a lot of very ‘off’ notes thrown around.

      Anyway, each to their own and all that. I’m just gasping for some decent new ‘avant-garde’ stuff & I’m frequently let down. I don’t mean to belittle your tastes…

  • Norfair Legend

    The vocals are what makes me like this, sometimes it’s fun to hear some actual theatrics. Sounds like a play. I can get down with this.

  • Reese Burns

    The concept of this album really interests me. Gonna have to make a mental note to grab this. Thanks Madam!

    • Goes to show this slacker that a late review is better than none at all!

  • madhare

    This is the musical version of the gentrification that’s taking over ex-industrial UK towns like Glasgow. You know, especially the formerly industrial/trade quarters, which then turned into fun youthful areas, which now are full of irritating hipsters serving ridiculously overpriced drinks.

  • Zach Ward

    You mention A Forest of Stars like six times. They’re good tho so Imma have to give dis a listen. Thanks m8

    • Daniel Ritson

      Yes – I’m also a fan of AFOS and heard this a little while back and loved it. Maybe my favorite so far of this young year.

    • There’s also a subdued whiff of Winterhorde’s Maestro and fleeting associations to The Vision Bleak’s atmosphere of yore to this work, if that can help boost the curiosity furthermore.

  • Martin Knap

    Dødheimsgard set the bar pretty high for the new avant-garde BM bands…

    • I need to spend more time with them. What I listened to in preparation for this review, intrigued me a lot.

  • antitayyip

    those licks reminds me povertys no crime

    • Not familiar with them. Worth checking out?

      • antitayyip

        i was just trolling..

  • Excentric_13073

    This is a fevered artistic vision, to be sure.

  • Oberon

    Madam X, did you think that the crescendo and build up of A Prophet for a Pound of flesh, set the high point of “A Shadowplay”?

  • Oscar Albretsen

    Well, you say it’s a grower, so I’ll take you word for that, but the song is way too out of left field for me to enjoy.

  • Thatguy

    The voice reminds me of the ranter from Valborg. This was already on my radar, but thanks for reminding me, Madam.

  • ssorg

    The embedded track feels like Mekons meets DsO’s “Abscission”… an interesting listen.

  • Treble Yell

    Love the introduction to the review, Madam. Dødheimsgard mentions means I’ll need to check this out. The album art and lyrical themes gives me The Axis of Perdition vibes

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Metal is the best. Richard Clayderman gets name dropped in a Metal review! I bet Abbath never gets namedropped in Richard Clayderman’s reviews!

    • I absolutely pictured him scratching his head, puzzling over who this Abbath was!

  • gus rodrigues

    When you mention Diamanda Galas and Vulture Industries in the same review, it is hard to resist! This also led me to a band I never paid attention: A Forest of Stars. Good acquisitions for a monday! Excelent review Madam!

  • Sharp-Blunt Boy

    It’s all a bit James Joyce if you ask me. Pleasantly discombobulating and disconcerting but sounds disjointed, especially in comparison to your other excellent name drops. I like the style and vision so may give some other tracks a spin. Or just forget it and just have a swig from that laudanum bottle at the back of the medicine cupboard.

  • There shall be no “rest stops to gather one’s bearings” in the mist of smog, poverty, drug abuse, disease, physical deterioration, misfortune and misery in the streets of London whilst being plagued by the threat of Jack the Ripper lurking in the dismal polluted fog.
    Where is Sherlock Holmes when we need him?

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Is the dude from Hell singing in this? Haha, thanks for the rec, Madam. I shall check this out.