Ashen Horde – Antimony Review

The black/death/prog polymaths of Ashen Horde are back with Antimony, their latest subgenre-surfing full-length. The new one is a concept album that explores the unsolved Victorian-era murder of one Charles Bravo. Experts agree that Bravo perished from antimony poisoning, but his story spins out from there to embrace a cornucopia of credible suspects and motivations. Did Bravo accidentally dose himself with the poison while trying to kill his promiscuous new bride and thus assume control of her considerable wealth? Did his housekeeper murder him as revenge for Bravo’s cruelty and his threats to cast her out onto the streets? And what to make of the presence of Dr. William Gull, the physician tabbed by Alan Moore’s graphic novel From Hell as none other than Jack the Ripper himself? The ten tracks of Antimony explore the crime from every angle. Ashen Horde’s songwriting talent remains intact on their new set, leaving us with only a pair of salient questions: whodunnit, and exactly how good are the songs crafted to address the mystery?

History still debates the question of Charles Bravo’s murderer, but there’s no disputing the quality of Antimony. Ashen Horde attacks the true crime theme of their newest offering with the same restless vigor that thrilled Holdeneye on previous effort Fallen Cathedrals. While blistering black metal is the touchstone, the band deploys a layered approach that sees the different elements of their sound each take their turn in the foreground. You can find hints of Sons of Northern Darkness-era Immortal in the riffs (“The Throes of Agony,” “The Physician,” and “The Neophyte”), even as intricate structures and instrumental runs that are skillful enough to border on “tech” evoke Devin Townsend and Death circa The Sound of Perseverance. Those comparisons are really just points of departure since by now the sound Ashen Horde has developed over three albums is pretty much theirs alone. It’s a dense but accessible approach that rewards both casual listens and sustained attention. Antimony is a literate ripper, an early high-water mark for 2023 that continues Ashen Horde’s quality run.

Antimony wears its concept lightly. The album is enhanced by the story without being dependent on it. You can dial into the mostly understandable lyrics and follow along as each of the ten songs examines an event or character surrounding Bravo’s murder. On the other hand, Ashen Horde’s latest works even if you have no clue there’s a bigger narrative afoot. The stirring musicianship of “The Courtesan” is its own reward, as are the searing riffs of “The Physician” and “Animus Nocendi.” Primary vocalist Stevie Boiser’s black rasps and death croaks blend effectively with occasional cleans from guitarist Trevor Poltz on tracks like “The Consort” and “The Barrister.” Poltz’s axework powers the platter, balancing his signature precision riffs with expressive leads that enhance the songs without feeling noodly. A pristine production job binds the whole package together. It may lack rough edges, but every element of the music is vibrant in Shane Howard’s mix.

The album’s biggest flaw is the cover of “Knives” that closes the set. It’s an offhanded and even goofy take on Therapy?’s anthem, a jarring transition that fits neither the mood nor the continuity of Antimony. Its inclusion feels like a mistake… which, it turns out, it is. The band sent the wrong master to their label, and the album was in production by the time they noticed “Knives” on the track list. Lop it off and enjoy a tighter listen that comes to a stirring conclusion with “Animus Nocendi.” Stevie Boiser’s lyrics can occasionally be erudite to a fault. This is a man who kicked off Fallen Cathedrals with a quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Boiser’s turns of phrase are a pleasure to decipher—but the songs tend to be wallpapered with them, words upon words upon words that occasionally pull focus from the quality songwriting.

Antimony sees Ashen Horde lean into the storytelling instincts that made Fallen Cathedrals stand out. The results could easily have been mannered and overwrought, as often happens when the “concept” portion of a concept album overwhelms the music. In practice, Ashen Horde mixes a story into their sound every bit as nimbly as they do a whole host of subgenres. They’ve dropped a rich and rewarding listen that further develop’s Ashen Horde’s unique sound, a January standout that I’ll return to throughout the year.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: January 27th, 2023

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