Longtime readers may recall the genesis of my infatuation with Hope Drone in late 2014 when I featured them on the very first Sampling Bias (um, yeah I’ll do another one of those sometime) which covered the proud continent of Australia. I lauded their self-titled debut as “”possibly the most devastatingly nihilistic recording I’ve ever heard, both instrumentally and lyrically.“” That’s in double-quotes because it’s pulled from the Relapse press release that referenced our little anger-hole [angerquarium? angerena? – AMG] when the label signed the band just about a month after that post. So you could say the band owes me. They owe me a new album, at the least.
So naturally they gave both me and you the equivalent of two. Cloak of Ash should by all rights get immediately panned because it’s close to 80 minutes long. If you’ve never listened to Hope Drone before, the best approximation of their style would be Deafheaven if Deafheaven‘s Kerry McCoy had ever listened to metal before and the core of the band stepped out of the monstrous shadow of their own navels. Which I really hope happens sometime. Until then the Californian typeface salesmen [and Apple spokesmen – AMG] will remain overshadowed by a growing storm to the South, which brings us towards a more meaningful descriptor; a less pert analysis of Hope Drone reaches for the word ‘elemental.’ Cloak of Ash is that. Each fractal spark of a song crackles across the aural skybox, cast off from the forge as the hammers of entropy strike with deterministic indifference the rigid substrate of reality, eroding it grain by grain.
Like Ulcerate, Hope Drone build their empire of dirt from the perspective of a mountain looking down across the innumerable sand castles of human civilization. Cloak of Ash is as uncompromisingly bleak and indifferent as Hope Drone and even more fearless. The band’s ambition is truly remarkable; not only is this album massively long, it puts its most challenging material first, beginning with the 20 minute storm of “Endless Gray.” Denser and noisier than any previous material, the song drifts between endlessly echoing polyphonic guitar lines and the group’s unmistakable doom riffs and choking haboobs of tremolo-picked guitar and unrelenting percussion. Noise plays a much greater role in this record than it did in Hope Drone, whether from the indecipherably distorted bass tone, the enveloping reverb from amps recorded in rooms that sound dozens of stories high, or the tidal ebbs of pure noise that thicken each moment of sound.
And each moment of sound is incredible. Within the first moment of “Chords that Thrum Beneath the Earth” I had already surrendered money for a vinyl copy of Cloak. The production of the album is reminiscent of Colin Marston’s work with Rosetta but with a thousand times more noise and pure sound. Cloak of Ash appears to have been co-mixed by the band and Chris Brownbill at Sun Distortion in Queensland, and the recording and mixing of the album are beyond reproach; absolutely organic, noisy, and hopeless.
Cloak of Ash is just short of perfection. Were it not for “Every End Is Fated in Its Beginning,” which for some reason pales in comparison to the rest of the album, and especially to its neighboring songs, The album itself would be beyond a shadow of a doubt the year’s best so far, and even with this blemish it’s going to be crushing many a hope come year-end.
Drone at its most effective aesthetically resembles smothering oneself with a Rothko canvas. Cloak of Ash completes the experience with a tributary pool of arterial blood and eponymous dusting of tephra. The fate of every tear shed while enveloped in its veil becomes so incredibly clear; the water will evaporate, leaving everything that made it once a part of you behind; each molecule will blunder towards stoic nonexistence in anonymity. You will be left alone again with only yourself and your envy for the blissful unconsciousness of the thing. Hope Drone drowns you in a vast awareness of your own impossible burden of existence, suffocating you under tides of impossibly dense, churning guitar tone. Art such as this is dangerous because of how completely it creates and disintegrates desire; a desire for meaning broached with the purest hope and utmost trepidation and flattened by eons of senseless storm. It is the festering splinter of nihilism that we all try to bandage, but every jolt and jab bleeds the nervous fact of its continued mephitic existence. We are reveling and drowning in man’s failure to overcome. You will know it when you hear it.