Who determines the subgenre of an album? Is it the band itself? The label? Metal Archives? The listener? Satan? Honestly, this is a question that hadn’t really seemed important in my mind until reviewing this album from Singaporean band The Wandering Ascetic. Crimson is the band’s first full-length, but they began playing together in 2011 and released an EP in 2013. The project is being touted by Transcending Obscurity Asia as the more streamlined blackened thrash outlet for vocalist Kathir, whom fans of Rudra may recognize as that band’s longtime frontman. Streamlined blackened thrash sounded really nice while I was perusing promos, so I decided to join The Wandering Ascetic for a walkabout.
But something wasn’t quite right. On the first two listens, I found myself thinking that this black/thrash was some of the most boring black/thrash I’ve ever experienced. The band, the label, and Metal Archives all describe the style as blackened thrash or blackened death metal. Even the promo files and the Bandcamp album title itself are tagged with “Black/Thrash,” and being a music journalism n00b, I was hesitant to question all of these prepackaged descriptions. But now watch as I pull up my big boy shorts, stiffen my upper lip, and defy these so-called authorities!
Crimson may contain traces of black metal (mostly Kathir’s growls) and thrash, but calling it blackened thrash does it and the band a disservice. There are elements of doom, hard rock, and even grunge here, and these will seem out of place if the listener is expecting what the promo materials promise. Approaching the music with fresh ears allowed me to enjoy it for what it is and not what it’s supposed to be. Take “I Sing the Body Electric” for example. My Seattle might be showing here, but I hear a large helping of Alice in Chains in the riffs, percussion, and especially the solo that sounds like Jerry Cantrell recorded it himself. It’s followed up by “The Exorcism of Mrs. Doe” which uses a riff that would fit perfectly on an early Candlemass album. “The Gods Bleed!” begins with a bass solo, then moves into verse that has Kathir growling over a ponderous doom riff with choral chant backup. None of this qualifies as blackened thrash, but that’s not a problem in and of itself.
There is a little bit of thrash here, but it’s more South of Heaven than Reign in Blood. Opener “Eva Braun” starts with a mid-paced thrash riff, and things never really speed up from there. Embedded track “The Will to Live” begins with a classic thrash chug, and the verse is growled over some Slayer triplets, but like most songs on Crimson it eventually falls back onto the hard rock/grunge base that grounds much of the album. And for me, that is the problem. While the music combines all of its influences in fun and creative ways at times, the fact that almost every song falls back into mid-paced rock makes its 42-minute runtime seem too long. Kathir’s vocals, while not bad by any means, have no variation and add to this sense of tediousness.
On the plus side, Crimson sounds fantastic with a live feel and a nasty guitar tone. The Cantrellian solos provided by Kathir’s Rudra bandmate, Vinod are a bright spot, filling some of the more monotonous passages with feeling and melody. Bassist Jayakumar gives an outstanding performance, providing solos and rumbling along behind the riffs like a madman. As far as standout tracks go, “Beast of Burden,” “Eva Braun,” and “The Will to Live” are my favorites, each showcasing the band members in top form, but beyond these highlights and a few good moments to be found elsewhere, there really isn’t much here that will keep me coming back.
The Wandering Ascetic have succeeded in creating a sound that nearly defies genre classification and has some nice moments, but the songs simply don’t have the variation or overall quality to let that sound truly shine. My expectations were thrown off by the descriptions I had seen in the promo and online, and I’ve learned that I need to let my ears define what I’m hearing without relying on external factors. That said, even revised expectations couldn’t rescue Crimson from being another very well-played but mostly unremarkable album.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Transcending Obscurity Asia
Websites: thewanderingascetic.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wanderingascetic
Releases Worldwide: February 12th, 2019