Convocation – Ashes Coalesce Review

Yes, I still write here. In fact, nothing can draw me out of seclusion quite like the promise of some quality Finnish extremity. In 2018, I had the good fortune to cover Convocation, a newly established entity of funereal death-doom. Desolate Shrine mastermind L.L joined forces with Dark Buddha Rising vocalist M. Neuman to pour all of their grief into one bereft body of work, and the results were profound. Now, the universal wailing wall stands ready to receive yet another cascade of condemnation. Ashes Coalesce is the project’s second release and promises pain and perdition in equal measure. This year has been appalling for obvious reasons, but if you think your heart couldn’t possibly sink any lower… then prepare to plumb new stygian depths.1

Debut Scars Across seared itself into the flesh of 2018’s death metal-centric corpse with ease. A keloid of dark, often atmospheric doom that was immediately captivating amidst the year’s brutality. Ashes Coalesce doesn’t look to change that formula; rather, it refines it. The genre’s inevitable gut-punch coupled with the inherent pace often necessitates lengthy run-times. The debut’s four-track format remains intact, but the writing process has been streamlined to offer a much more focused impact. But make no mistake, the album’s sole aim is still to connect on an emotional level. And it does not disappoint.

To this end, Ashes Coalesce does what all good funeral doom should and employs sequencing as a narrative device. The four songs offer a very distinct context. Each cut carves with the intention of achieving a gestalt wound greater than the sum of its parts. “Martyrise” begins the record with a notable emphasis on death metal. L.L sutures his deceptively memorable riffing together with an impending melody that galvanizes the gothic mid-pace. It’s a surprisingly aggressive introduction and feels more like an aperture to some kind of psychological event, which, by design, is just how the album transpires.

If “Martyrise” is the explosion, then “The Absence of Grief” is surely the fallout. Channeling doom deities Evoken, the song exudes turmoil. Detractors of the genre always decry the tempo, which begets a lack of structure. However, where Convocation truly excel is in their writing. “The Absence of Grief” and “Misery Form” both provide a clear trajectory with enough ebb and flow to stir an ocean. L.L’s guitar work oscillates between huge riffs whose spacious breaths are filled with churning passages that provide plenty of pace. By the time “The Absence of Grief’s” bridge occurs, we’re treated to thick palm-mutes that culminate in a tumultuous finale. While it would be easy to lay all the credit at L.L’s multi-instrumental door, the material simply wouldn’t resonate without Neuman’s inhuman vocal variations. His rich growls and shrieks are only bettered by the sparing use of textured cleans, often utilized to ecclesiastical effect amidst the haunting keys. “Misery Form” casts an increasingly wretched silhouette, whose gothic density is wrought from a tortured vocal pitch and stepped rhythms. The two songs represent a gauntlet that doom aficionados will love to run again and again.

Ashes Coalesce is an utter success. It’s faster than its predecessor and has a more refined sense of direction. Even the production is sharper. Long-time readers will be familiar with my disdain for unnecessary instrumentals, but closer “Portal Closed” also gets by unscathed. Its Hammond-enhanced melancholy is almost tranquil in comparison to the rest of the album. In fact, it rings with resignation and draws the album to a natural, but affecting, end. As the record fades, it becomes clear that Ashes Coalesce is to be taken as a whole. As a result, it’s an album that requires a particular setting. Scars Across held more focus on individual tracks and is likely easier to dip into, but any qualitative difference is beyond negligible. Only time will tell whether Convocation’s work will reach the lofty height of Antithesis of Light or The Maniacal Veil. But one thing is for certain, Ashes Coalesce is the inevitable echo of a year so tragically defined by loss. For better or worse, the global events of 2020 have alchemized the album into something elemental. As the cover art suggests, take a deep breath and submerge your soul as Convocation strike up the perfect requiem to  accompany all of life’s continued contortions.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Everlasting Spew Records
Released Worldwide: July 3rd, 2020

Written By: Cherd of Doom

Having delivered its cargo, a massive lory emblazoned with the words “Ferrous Bueller‘s Death Doom Delivery” rumbles up the street. British made and proud, it belches diesel fumes and the warm tang of blood sausage, showing as little regard for air quality as the Empire did for autonomous nations. “God Save the Queen” plays on bagpipes somewhere in the distance. Before it disappears behind a hedge, a figure on a skateboard detaches from the rear bumper, rolls to a stop and wipes the dirt and insects from his face. He stomps the kicktail of the skateboard and moves to catch it mid-air. It slips awkwardly through his hands and clatters onto the pavement. He removes his safety helmet and speaks: 

Surprise, bitches! Double review. Turns out, if you linger around other people’s promos sighing loudly and looking pathetic, some poor sap will eventually throw you a bone. Convocation’s debut was one of those serendipitous discoveries that any fan of doom metal hopes is just around the corner. Not only was it a confident album of death/funeral doom in the vein of Evoken and Esoteric, but it became the incidental soundtrack to a significant event in my life, which elevated it further in my mind. I’ve been eagerly looking forward to follow up Ashes Coalesce and I’m thankful Ferrous let me double up.

If you’re familiar with Convocation’s Scars Across, the formula here is similar. This is death-forward death and funeral doom with a tectonically heavy guitar tone and economical yet full arrangements. There are only two members: LL, also of the excellent Desolate Shrine, handles all instruments and songwriting duties, while MN, also of Dark Buddha Rising, handles vocals and lyrics. LL uses layered, repetitive guitar lines, solemn riffs and the occasional well-placed death chug to build foreboding. There’s no soloing, and structural movements are more lateral than progressive, with motifs that evolve in half-steps more than leaps. There are only four tracks across a brief-for-the-genre 45 minutes, but Ashes Coalesce manages some stylistic variation with a relatively death metal oriented opener in “Martyrise” before settling into a funereal, gut grinding pace for the next two tracks. Capping things off is instrumental “Portal Closed,” which uses overtly emotive guitar lines and synth washes to effectively expand upon stately and ethereal qualities that appeared more subtly in previous songs.

While the instrumentation is solid and thoughtful throughout, the real highlight of Ashes Coalesce is the many layered vocal performance of MN. Already in possession of an excellent death growl, he ups the ante repeatedly in “Martyrise” and “The Absence of Grief” with moments of protracted harsh screams that rise in octave before trailing off. These flourishes are both remarkably controlled and feral in their emotional impact. Adding to this, “The Absence of Grief” and “Misery Form” feature MN’s unique, other-worldly cleans layered into doom heralding choruses that evoke the Greek tragedy meaning of that word. In a genre that’s too often content with how-low-can-you-go guttural growls and laconic spoken passages, Ashes Coalesce offers an impressive spectrum of vocals through both raw performance and in studio manipulation.

When an unexpectedly great debut sets sophomore expectations high, there are bound to be a few nits to pick. In scoring an album, I find there’s a difference in talking myself into a 3.5 versus talking myself out of a 4.0, and Ashes Coalesce falls into the latter category. Convocation has released something here that’s oh so close to greatness, but the missing component is the home-run, SOTY contender track. Scars Across had an easy lister in “Allied POWs,” but after multiple spins, a transcendent cut hasn’t emerged from Ashes Coalesce. And while the quality remains high throughout, “The Absence of Grief” and “Misery Form” are essentially interchangeable funeral doom cuts on a four track album.

Convocation’s second offering is heavy, subtly emotional and bolstered by a thoroughly engaging vocal performance that helps it stand out from the crowd. It may not have quite reached the heights I think this band is capable of, but it will still be one of the best of its kind in 2020. And since this is a double review that I tagged along for like a younger sibling trying to be noticed by the cool kids, you should definitely defer to Ferrous‘ undoubtedly superior take as you weigh Ashes Coalesce in the balance.2

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I usually hire out my plumbing projects. – Holdeneye
  2. Isn’t his head already big enough? – Holdeneye
« »