Shadowgarden - _Ashen_
(Napalm, 2010)
by: Jeremy Ulrey (7.5 out of 10)
A new ensemble in the classic Napalm tradition -- forlorn, melodic vocals; keyboard drenched, gothic song structures; heavy yet clean guitars, spacious production, etc. -- Shadowgarden is a side project for members of Swedish goth band Draconian plus session musicians. Available biographical info is pretty much slim pickings at this point, so it's unclear how seriously the band members are taking it, but the finished product is a legitimate creative effort. The primary difference between Shadowgarden and Draconian is that, whereas the latter takes the goth influence in more of a doom direction, Shadowgarden is catchy -- almost poppy -- by comparison. Shadowgarden's Myspace page lists The Mission and Sisters of Mercy as influences alongside Katatonia, Cemetary and Sentenced's _Frozen_ album, and that should give you a pretty good cross section of what to expect.

There's not much here that hasn't been done before, but then that's usually not what side projects are all about. Sometimes when you're a musician in the songwriting vein you find yourself listening to a certain style of music often enough that you feel compelled to try your hand at it, and that's more or less what _Ashen_ feels like... not to take anything away from the songwriting, which is of consistently high quality. Again, though heavy (but not crunchy) guitars underscore each of the album's ten tracks, the primary emphasis is on catchy, almost radio-friendly melodies ("Last Summer" in particular definitely belongs in regular rotation on Hard Radio, or maybe one of the satellite metal stations). Expectations are key here: if you go into this record expecting something brutal or innovative, it's bound to leave you cold (and not in the emotionally chilly sense the band is going for); on the other hand, if you find yourself lamenting the fact that hooks have been largely absent from metal since the '80s, _Ashen_ is right up your alley.


(article published 28/7/2010)

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