Acârash – Descend to Purity Review

Should gothic rock/metal only be serious? Or fun? Can it be both? Is the genre doomed to languish in the large shadow cast by Ghost, or is there wiggle-room for other acts to shine? Acârash, a trio from Norway, play a form of mid-paced black metal with distinctly groovy riffs scattered throughout. Think Satyricon by way of Satyricon and you probably have a sense of the music you’re in for. Descend to Purity is the band’s sophomore effort, following 2018’s In Chaos Becrowned. Doc Grier thought that effort was a promising debut, but with songs that tended to meander and ultimately go nowhere. He also nearly started a riot in the comments section by stating that Ghost kinda suck. Now, I have no wish to further inflame a world that has enough tension as is, but whatever your feelings about Ghost, you have to admit that the band members at least sound like they’re having fun. Acârash is aiming for the same aesthetic, but with a tone that’s a whole lot more serious and darker. Have they succeeded?

The first thing to note is how much more focused Descend to Purity is than its predecessor. Chaos meandered like the local drunkard after happy hour, drifting aimlessly for long stretches before gaining momentum by awkwardly and rapidly lurching forward. While it would be a stretch to call Purity needle-sharp, its digressions are generally far more interesting than Chaos’s. Instead of getting lost on pointless side quests, Purity’s passages are more disciplined, sounding cohesively aligned to the body of the song, while also being shorter and punchier. More importantly, however, they are frequently catchy, with hints of blues (“Three Knives”) and doom (“Desecrate. Liberate”) sneaking their way in. At its best, this album defies you not to tap your foot in appreciation.

Another highlight is how much variety is on offer. Some of the riffs manage the tightrope walk of being both catchy and complex. Not content with simple progressions or chords, Acârash uses a clever interplay of complicated key shifts (“Below Ceremonial”) and some smart time changes to hold the listener’s attention. The guitars of “Satanic Obsession” sound both catchy and restless as they roam their way through a highly enjoyable black ‘n’ roll landscape. These are talented and ambitious musicians, and the music often reflects this.

The downside is that while there are many great moments on Purity, it lacks the cohesion to link them together. Often, you’ll find yourself tapping your foot to a great riff, only for the song to end with said riff having promptly fled from your mind. This is because the glue that links the good ideas simply isn’t strong enough to convert them to great songs. Take the solo in “Satanic Obsession,” for example, or the crushing doom of “Goat, Skull, Ritual Fire.” Neither passage is terrible; they’re just bland. They also go on too long. But worst of all, they leach power from the cool moments that bookend them. This dulling effect of the album’s sharpest moments is as maddening as it is disappointing. The other ingredient, I think, that’s missing is just a greater sense of fun. Metal shouldn’t be parody, and these are serious artists. Ghost, for all their faults, showed that metal doesn’t always have to be deadly serious. When Acârash allows some enjoyment and variety to sneak in, as on the aforementioned “Desecrate. Liberate,” Descend to Purity really shines.

Descend to Purity is a definite step up from Acârash’s wobbly debut. The band has tightened up in all the areas that matter, with songs that now sound like songs and not loose, capering improvs casually stitched together. While there’s a lot less of it, bloat still bedevils this album like a plague of locusts, and like said locusts, it’s just as destructive. It sounds to me like Acârash has reached a crossroads. Either they embrace their lighter, more eclectic side, loosen up, and have a bit of fun. Or they double down on the dark and serious, and remorselessly cut away the flab. They have to choose, though. Because right now, these guys are stuck in the middle. And that gets you a middling score.


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dark Essence Records
Websites: acarash.bandcamp.com  |  facebook.com/acarash
Releases Worldwide: May 29th, 2020

« »