Austere
To Lay Like Old Ashes

The amount of music that gets released each year is staggering. Thus, it’s not a surprise that while 2010 is well underway, we still find worthwhile releases from 2009 land in our laps. What’s more, during the past few years Australia has become so much more to the metal crowd―particularly Alchemist, Cemetery Urn and Destroyer 666―than just the birthplace of AC/DC. The Aussies keep pouring out quality acts in various genres, and while the bands or their material might not yet have reached their full potential, it’s fortifying the country’s place within the battlefield of metal.

Austere are venturing into territory more often associate with Scandinavia or even Portland, Oregon. After the calm-before-the-storm opener “Down”, the band’s rendition of blackened suicidal metal ravages through To Lay Like Old Ashes like a wildfire, somewhat a kin to their homeland brethren Midnight Odyssey, with a slight Burzum flair. But it’s the shades of earlier Agalloch that give it a natural (i.e., mountains, lakes, forests) feel.

In my opinion, the screaming―a nearly ruinous tactic―does not lend itself to the nuances of human suffering; pain and sense of lost can be expressed in a heavier way by utilizing the full spectrum of the human voice. But just as the effect is about to over-welcome its stay, six minutes in to the second track “This Dreadful Emptiness”, the band throws in clean vocals, which have and give emotional weight to Austere‘s arboreal metal. On the next track, “To Lay Like Old Ashes” the band reverts back to their throat-scarring ways, but this time around it doesn’t feel as forced and, again, around the six minute mark we’re treated to a different style of cleans, conveying the bleak message: “Death with no redemption, we’re all heading towards the end.”

Whereas before Austere blasted like a jackhammer, “Just For a Moment…” wreaks havoc in its subtlety. Heavy on the acoustics, the music kicks in with Primordial-esque riffing and drumming. And then, then it happens. Austere unleashes its strongest weapon in its entirety: the clean vocals. No screaming. No shouting.

And how fragile, how hurt the vocals seem. The contrast it creates with the past songs almost breeds anger. Anger for sparing such qualities seems so unfair. Yet, within the contrast lies the effect. The moment becomes so grand it justifies all past sins, creates an end to the beginning and corrects To Lay Like Old Ashes in the proper context by showing the man behind the wretched soul. I’m inclined to state, that if there ever was an album worth owning for just one song, this would be one of them.

Glad I’m also for the fact that the band realizes that there’s no point of return after such a tour de force and they end the album with a 20-minute instrumental, “Coma II”. Which, I take, might be continuation to the song “Coma” from their previous album Withering Illusions and Desolation. The song consists of guitars and ambient chimes, winding down the album to the respectable sound of a distant storm.

With rough corners here and there, To Lay Like Old Ashes isn’t necessarily Top of 2009 material. However, with all the emotion loaded into the album, Austere is an extremely promising band aiming for extremely promising things. Things, that make some other bands look numb and void of soul.

[This review was completed a while back. As of today (May 19th, 2010) the band has apparently split-up. While the potential of this particular project is lost, they do have various other gigs going on (such as Grey Waters) that will no doubt inspire us all in the future. Definitely keep an eye out.]

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Mikko K.
May 19th, 2010

Comments

  1. Commented by: Infinite Death (Nick)

    Just listened to this album a few nights ago, so it was a staggering blow of coincidence to learn of their demise as a band only a day or two later. To Lay Like Old Ashes is the perfect album for me when I’m feeling down and depressed, and I absolutely love it for that factor. The hopelessness, sadness, and despair that this disc brings to me is unexplainable; only listening truly conjures up how I feel about it. Hope these guys continue to work with their immense talent and passion in the future. R.I.P.


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