Ashen Horde - _Sanguinum Vindicta_
(Mandol Records, 2013)
by: Chaim Drishner (8.5 out of 10)
Hollywood, California would probably be the last place on the Northen hemisphere one would expect a decent black metal act to hail from; well, that and probably Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Ashen Horde is, for all intents and purposes, a decent black metal band, and that in itself is an accomplishment, given the legion of black metal bands active nowadays, here, there and everywhere, most of which either don't know what they are doing or have absolutely no face of their own.

A one-man act, Ashen Horde is the brainchild and musical manifestation of one Trevor Ports, a multi-instrumentalist whose other bands, namely Fetal Hymen and Bite Wound are a mystery to the writer of these very lines; so with virtually zero biography and 'heritage' we hit the road with Ashen Horde's debut full-length album, almost 48 minutes of relentless black metal with a progressive touch incorporated into the hectic and violently fast played riffs.

_Sanguinum Vindicta_ (something like "Blood Vengeance" is Latin) is an interesting album, to say the least. Opening a rift between black metal's basic and raw roots and more exquisite, riff-conscious, progressive elements, this album floats right in the middle, in this wonderful limbo where anything is possible.

Blast beats enamored, this album is extremely fast where it generates a wall of noise, only to be torn down by actual and quite complex guitar playing, establishing short-lived riffs and interesting note progression. The blasts are kept at precise portions and are unleashed exactly in the right places; a rewarding musical decision, because it enables the music to become more dynamic and poignant, convincing the listener Mr. Portz knows his bread-and-butter where it comes to violent, sharp, hateful black metal, where those vitriolic moments are mostly needed.

Those hyper speed moments have not been forsaken; most of the time they are complemented by slower guitar passages, intricate song structures and unorthodox tempos. The music is insanely fast at times; the guitar and drums play then and there at breakneck velocity, and even then -- at those points of weakness -- the progressive complexity isn't compromised, as if playing at 100 BPMs or 250 BPMs makes no difference whatsoever; you'd still hear the very same patterns, never mind the velocity.

The riffs vary from Middle Eastern to distinctively metallic sonic hatred bearing somewhat of a black 'n' roll etiquette, using an organic sounding guitar effect that washes everything with dark warmth. Given the fact the dirty, gritty bass is ever present and everything is tuned down to the lower frequencies (meaning also no traditional tremolo playing techniques were used), some of the riffs own an ominous death metal vibe; as a matter of fact, if the vocals were even a notch lower, this would be quite great a death metal album nobody would have complained about.

_Sanguinum Vindicta_ belongs both to the school of insanely fast black metal bands for whom blast beats were invented, and to the kind of bands whose progressive stamp is carefully embedded into the fabric of their dissonance and distortion, without letting the listener choose which facet of the album he/she likes more, whether the progressive aspirations or the parading maelstrom of swirling, monochromatic and hateful guitars. That is to say, whether you are a Sammath fan or an Enslaved fan, you wouldn't have to choose between the former's _Godless Arrogance_ or the latter's _Below the Lights_; both albums are kind of represented here simultaneously, with an extra twist of dark essence courtesy of the sun-baked land of California.

Even though the tracks don't differ too much from one another, there's a sense of wholeness to the recording, as if it was a concept album comprising one long track of epic tales. The vocals are, by no means, the typical high-pitched screech nor are they anywhere around that; although not processed per se, they are half whispered and somewhat hollow, allowing a mechanical, industrial edge to be taking over the recording, where machine-like precision adds its own punch to the austere, cold facade. Regardless, _Sanguinum Vindicta_ still retains an organic feel; like something naturalistic and primordial but with a human touch, cleverly maneuvering this gargantuan dark ship across malevolent seas that allow some short lived, infinitesimal moments of bliss and tranquility amidst the storm.

_Sanguinum Vindicta_ is a good album with a heightened sense of melody and musical craftsmanship like you wouldn't believe, coming from Hollywood, of all places. It's the crest of American black/death metal created by an intelligent composer whose talent to write ultra-violent-yet-engaging songs is on par with his ability to master the various instruments he uses on this recording (and that includes the naturally sounding, complex drum programming), and whose influences are as obvious as is his skill to eventually sound totally unique and inventive.


(article published 28/4/2014)

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