Honestly, I don’t know who is more thankful for the bat-like ears of the AMG senior (I mean this in the kindest way possible) staff; the readers or the reviewers. These old (sorry), metal titans have a knack for finding little-heard-of and underrated promos to be reviewed, and then hunt them down like a pack of blood-thirsty hellhounds. These are the sorts of things that make me proud to be a writer (and for years, a reader) of Angry Metal Guy. This review and this band are the perfect example of the prowess exhibited by the Chief AMGers. Though it was released a couple weeks ago, Ethereal Shroud’s They Became the Falling Ash refuses to be overlooked in the promo box and it has convinced more than one writer that it deserves praise.
I absolutely love me a good atmospheric black metal album; the kind that drags you deep into its ambience and leaves you wondering where the hell you’ve driven to when it ends. Vallendusk’s Black Clouds Gathering being an album that comes to mind. But what if you could drag those atmospheric qualities across a tone of dooms and drones that weep of hopelessness and fuck-the-world-isms? The result would undoubtedly be the UK-based Ethereal Shroud; the one-man project led by Joe Hawker. At home in the ranks of the “unsigned,” Hawker has delivered some impressive material in the absence of a label and has topped the ravings of his 2013 debut. Absolution | Emptiness was a classic case of laying the foundation of a band’s career and They Became the Falling Ash is the fucking mansion built on that blackened brick and mortar.
Three songs and an hour in length, TBtFA is all about the atmosphere, the emotion, and the mood. “Look upon the Light” begins with the kind of “calming” character that precedes darker days. Ethereal Shroud utilizes a few key riffs for each track and Hawker expertly builds layers upon layers over the riffs as they climb and fall throughout the length of the songs; thereby, converting repetition into originality. Beyond the smooth blackness of the opener’s intro, you’ll find droning doom that picks up pace with an addictive chugging riff and drum-splitting wallops that build the song to its first climax. Yep, I said first. The long track (nearly twenty-five minutes in length) is a rollercoaster ride of ups-and-downs that build the suspense and then delivers on it. The layering sometimes results in increasing size and scope as the song ascends, to simply adding a new riff at just the right moment. An example would be the introduction of Hawker’s ever-distant Quorthon-like shrieks in the 5:00 mark of the opener. This addition adds wonderfully to the growing tension.
Closer “Echoes in the Snow” acts as the perfect partner to the opener (in charm and length). Being the bookends of the album, they represent the essence of TBtFA. On par with one another, “Echoes in the Snow” takes the formula of “Look upon the Light” and expands on the theme. It draws up Almighty Sadness from its doomy depths to rain on everyone’s parade. With all the doom-and-gloom and an emotive riff that could easily have been included in Dissection’s “Where Dead Angels Lie,” it rides out just a couple minutes too long. It has the epic bigness, but “Look upon the Light” is the superior track here with its near-perfect mix of emotion, atmosphere, and memorability on the album.
Middle track, “Desperation Hymn,” is much more aggressive than the other songs but still maintains that doomy, post-black, early-Wolves in the Throne Room feel. While it builds off of “Look upon the Light” and acts as an interlude between the album’s longer tracks, it lacks the tension and power of those songs. Oddly, this makes “Desperation Hymn” the longest, shortest track on the album. However, it sports a midsection drum build that mimics an increasing heartrate and grows to constant BM tremolo picking supported by the back-alley shrieks of Hawker before transitioning into the closer.
Throw in some of this year’s best production for a black metal album and dynamics that open TBtFA up like a chainsaw wound, and you get a release that has topped my February RotM list (even if it’s too late to do anything about it).
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 275 kbps mp3
Label: Self Release
Release Dates: Out Worldwide: 02.21.2015