Atten Ash - _The Hourglass_
(Hypnotic Dirge Records, 2015)
by: Chaim Drishner (9.5 out of 10)
As soon as we thought decent melodic doom/death had gone bankrupt, comes this little album by an American unheralded three-piece group and proves us completely fucking wrong. The excellent Canada-based Hypnotic Dirge Records has picked, like it occasionally does, an independently released album nobody has heard about (originally self-released in 2012), provides it with a new (and usually awesome) packaging and artwork, and re-releases it for all of us to enjoy a recording that otherwise would have been left rotting in its own shadows of anonymity.

Atten Ash's _The Hourglass_ is being compared to whatever Daylight Dies have been playing, and other than the fact both bands share the same guitar player (and keyboardist) by the name of Barre Gambling, we cannot comment on Daylight Dies' music. We can, however, appreciate Atten Ash's music on a standalone basis, and compare it to nothing out there, because whatever is out there is either too heavy and death metal-oriented compared to the gentle, progressive tunes captured on _The Hourglass_ or too fucking lame.

The beauty of _The Hourglass_ lies with the fact it balances so well between the melodic, delicate and easy listening parts, and the harsh, ominous and dark ones, sounding surprisingly fresh and unique, despite the dangerous waters the band navigate through. Dangerous waters, because this album could have been a total display of lameness, sounding too friendly and pop-oriented, or derivative; some would say boring, some would add sleep-inducing or cliché-ridden.

But no, sirs and madams, this album is beautiful and awe-inspiring. With guitars having a distinctive black metal sound, a couple of vocalists who are extremely potent with both the guttural howls of one guy and the clean singing of the other guy, and brilliant songwriting, this album is a delicacy to the ear -- and we mean the most exquisite of delicacies. Not a pompous, self-important, arrogant and blown-out-of-proportions recording -- but a musical black swan: perfect, majestic, beautiful and so fragile.

But the first impression may be somewhat lukewarm: you get the idea fast and you kind of like the album for its extreme friendliness and tame nature; you wait for the bite, for the blow -- but those never come.

Then, you listen some more; more intentionally and with a greater attention, and you realize this album is brilliant. In fact, it's so brilliant you wouldn't find any used, second-hand riff or part of a riff, throughout the entire album. This album is custom-made from beginning to end, having a strong, singular personality no other album possesses, simply because no other album has been yet recorded by that same assembly of musical/magical minds. By no means your habitual atmospheric doom/death metal record, this is a different kind of deadly doom -- and it is simply exquisite.

Despite the many references you may find in Atten Ash's music to the band's various inspirations (several atmospheric hardcore, progressive, death, doom and black metal bands come to mind, but we won't force-feed you -- try to use your own process of connotation and association while listening), these eight songs are truly a triumph for individuality; from the very first riff and synth line, to the last of the guitar leads, till the very end of the vocal performances -- until the very last note has died out, this album is authenticity made flesh.

The album possesses an emotional burden; this burden is found in the embedded melancholy and sad melodies it unleashes in a cascade of tunes so beautiful, they hurt. Long, contemplative and utterly spellbinding tracks with nothing but a display of sheer brilliance, this album radiates with the death of summer, the many hearts that are being broken, the crumbling of youth. This music makes us feel like we're running out of time, hence the hourglass -- and you don't even need to read the lyrics to know all this; all you have to do it listen.

The finest of the crop, _The Hourglass_ is a crash course in creativity, songwriting, individuality and the finest example of the art of translating sounds to pure emotions, and vice versa. Albums like this one are why we listen to metal music; we listen to metal because only within the intangible walls of heavy metal an album such as this could have been conceived; an album that -excites-, an album that -transcends-, an album that -pummels-, an album that does all that synchronously.

Whether you love progressive rock or heavy metal, this album is a masterpiece you can start -and- finish with.


(article published 2/5/2015)

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