Thursday 19 April 2018

Review: Asthenia - Nucleation

More than probably any other genre, those creative lads who play black metal seem to have an exaggerated love for the wistful and more melancholy parts of the most beautiful art our planet can provide for us: nature. Bands like Agalloch, Drudkh, and Wolves in the Throne Room represent some of the more popular examples of modern black metal bands who seem to take both lyrical and even, in a sense, musical influences from poetic scenes like deserted snowy wastelands, beautiful gaping mountains, and trees dripping with multicolored leaves, with autumn ravaging the land. Of course, many lesser known bands also make music with this same sort of inspiration, but sorting through them to find the plush, non-stabbing needle in the haystack can become tiring. Thank God I was saved the trouble of looking and was recommended Asthenia’s Nucleation, an excellent slab of emotional, yet not cheesy by any means, metal that should rank as one of the better black metal albums you’ll hear that was released recently.

My appreciation for it, which has grown in a tremendous fashion recently, might have to do with the current climate in my hometown. As I write this, snow is falling in very large quantities, joining the four or so inches that already lay peacefully on the ground. There’s no need in getting too pretentious in an unneeded account of how tranquil something as simple as snow looks; it’s easier just to say that winter is my favorite time of the year because of it, and I find it to be a season that is strengthened by musical accompaniment. Nucleation, with its cover, puts it clearly that this isn’t music you play during a summer visit to the beach. 

Lo-fi in production, but not so bad it’s unbearable, Nucleation is 43 minutes of ambient guitar passages, fast-paced and rather “raw” riffs, Asthen’s impressively evil vocals, Yiti’s nothing less impressive cleans, and added instrumentation, all to add to that “atmospheric” sort of thing that Asthen was obviously going for here. A lot of black metal albums with that sort of goal in mind—to make something that’s pleasant and emotionally-resonating as well as brutal and metal—often get lost in their own pretensions and soul-searching, rendering the album too personal for the listener to gain a foothold. These albums are frustrating, as the artist obviously have the right intentions, but just sort of fail in the execution, for lack of a more detailed description. Where those albums fail, though, Nucleation simply succeeds. 

For one thing, Nucleation doesn’t get too lengthy or too pretentious to follow; in fact, anyone with any sort of post-rock or ambient listening in their history can find the oft-changing soundscapes provided here to be rather relatable. There are moments of straight-up black metal, with Asthen screaming his head off and riffing furiously, producing that sort of sound in his guitar playing in which you swear you can hear all sorts of other instruments in the mix, even though they’re not even there. But there are moments of breathless beauty in here as well, from the piano ambience that opens the beginning of the title track that jumps into a post-rock induced frenzy. It might be pertinent to know that the preceding songs are just as excellent as their closing piece, with tracks like “Neoteny” adding a sort of minimalistic element in substitution for the atmospheric elements found elsewhere on Nucleation.

Combining accessibility and depthless musical talent, Nucleation is an extremely impressive debut from a young talent that shouldn’t go unnoticed by any music obsessive. It might take another album, but it won’t be long before Asthenia begins to become as well-known as they can get in his scene.

Listen to Nucleation here.

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