Red Shift

Five years. It has been five years since I had new material from Spain’s atmospheric black metal band Asgaroth. Corpse paint and swords were already a thing of the past for Lord Lupus, Mythral and associates, now they have dropped the pseudonyms as well. Daniel and Chris were joined in 1998 by Oscar and by Oisin in 2001.

Red Shift was recorded in 2000 and intended for release by Abstract Emotions. It eventually was, but only domestically in Spain. I found out about the release in November of 2001 and had no luck tracking down a copy. Peaceville to the rescue. Turns out the guys at Peaceville, vacationing in Barcelona, returned home with a new signing. November 2002 is the worldwide release of an album over two years old. Asgaroth is already a hit in Spain among extreme metal fans, winning album of the month honors along with best band, best album and best keyboardist polls. Does this incarnation of the band stack up well with the work of their first five years? Daniel now does backing vocals and Christopher the leads, a role reversal from the previous work. That translates into a loss of the Lord Lupus shriek as the dominant vocal style, but the flip side is a huge expansion of the role Mythral’s clean style played.

The other obvious change is the influx of death metal European style. Absence Spells Beyond, one of my favorite discs of the mid 90’s, is melancholic, atmospheric keyboard/piano driven black with clean backing vocals and traditional screeching lead vocals. With Red Shift, the great atmospheres are toned down and, as I said, the screeching vocals are gone. Normally when a band goes through such a complete metamorphosis I think a name change is in order, but in this case it seems a proper Asgaroth release. The further into the music I delved the more impressed I got. Different ideas expressed in different ways, but with equal skill. They have a history of well crafted lyrics, thoughtful and intelligent, a skill they have not lost. If I had to label it… atmospheric blackened doom death I guess. Such diversity of influences is sometimes a curse, proving a band to be directionless and adrift. Not so this time. Lord Lupus has evolved his vocals into a death growl and Christopher’s clean vocals have taken on a harsh edge in the new lead role. Keyboards are still the most important instrument, hence my argument for blackness. Lyrics are referred to by Peaceville as “mythical and philosophical,” which could allow the cynics to argue “not black metal,” but so what. We still get phenomenal melancholic keyboard melodies.

Looking closer at Peaceville’s press release reveals “cinematic death metal springs to mind, although the band is also strongly influenced by black metal.” that makes me wonder if the Peaceville crew listened to the first four albums. They were a pure black metal band for those five years after all, of course they were “influenced by black metal.” Mix in a harsher guitar sound and a more accomplished drummer and a wider appeal is pretty much guaranteed.

It’s rare for a band to achieve wider appeal without softening their approach. Asgaroth actually got harsher. It is just a complete lack of exposure that has held these guys back. Peaceville’s worldwide distribution will help in that regard.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Grimulfr
November 28th, 2002


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