Label : Rock’n Growl Records
Review by Disgraced & Luisa Mercier
From Croatia with sadness. Ashes You Leave, the historical doom-gothic metal band that started already in 1995, are back with their sixth studio album and a new, hoping solid line-up. Well, I’ll immediately say that I’m a long, long time fan of them so many of my judgements might be shadowed by my own liking of the music but two big faults, according to my humble opinion, are present as well and be sure I’ll point them out nonetheless. Kicking off with a piece of news most readers of this webzine will be interested in, this is the first record with new female singer Giada (also her first professional record ever), who marks the third woman in a three-records period in the AYL camp and their fourth singer generally speaking. Leaving apart first doomstress Dunja, who marked the mydyingbride-ish sound of their first three albums, and without being rude to Giada‘s two predecessors (one of whom was an incredibly talented keyboardist as well), it’s pretty clear since the opener “Devil in Disguise” that she’s the best choice for this band, with a quite distinctive voice which I’ll be about again later.
As I just said, “The Cure for Happiness” starts with “Devil in Disguise” which quickly shows you the best the Croatian have to offer; one might say that this album is a bit like “Songs of the Lost” #2, since with their previous album they had abandoned most of the symphonic temptations presented on “Fire” and on the opposite embraced again a slower, more melancholic kind of metal which certainly suits them better. But beware, there are very, very few “nu goth metal” elements here, no Delain or Lacuna Coil-like so to say. A generous solo in the opener track, and the overall heaviness are good examples of that – examples which shold be taken and learnt by many. Of course one of the trademarks of this band, aka miss Batinic‘s soaring violin melodies are always there but they aren’t part of the real own structure of the songs as they did in the past (the firtst three albums reworked the lesson of My Dying Bride‘s “The Angel and the Dark River” in a quite personal and successful way) although since being Marta together with guitarist/growler Berislav the only two founder members remained – a couple in music and in real life, for gossip’s sake – the feeling of a classic sound will be perceived by any old fan, thanks to that subtle red line that separates AYL from most bands in the same genre. Guitarist Berislav Poje, as already mentioned, is also responsible for the male harsh vocals audible hear and there in the most traditional duets à la Theatre of Tragedy with Giada; this marks another big and good return, since it was many years we didn’t hear so much manhood in AYL vocals. His growls are deep and powerful, very much death metal alike and very fitting. Second track “Only” Ashes You Leave starts with a beautiful violin-paced movement and seems to be a little less uptempo than the opener; perhaps if Placebo ever decided to play metal they’d deliver something like this – with Molko’s already rather feminine vocals it wouldn’t be that hard 😉 and let’s remember AYL themselves did an incredible rendition of “Every Me Every You” on their previous album. Particularly notable in this song are the guitar riffs again and the groove toward the end of the song born also thanks to the work of the other new bandmember, drummer Sasa Vukosav, who really did a great work with the sticks, and Luka Petrovic‘s bass skills.
Third track “For the Heart, Soul and Mind” has been released as an online promo single few days ago. Probably that’s because it’s a faster song with a catchy chorus; strophes are actually the best part in my opinion, with an almost stoner flavour in them and Giada‘s voice getting a bit acid. In the chorus instead she lets herself be driven by a semi-opera style which comes again in the final vocalizing. Well, this is a point worth of discussion because I think she has a wonderful, warm, natural low voice which makes some tracks simply shine. A bit reminiscent of both Flowing Tears vocalists, past and current, just to give you an idea: they are not the same but that is the what we’re speaking about. I think it would be a pity if such a particular singer were influenced by the actual trend in melodic metal and pushed herself to go higher and higher with octaves or to sing operatic-like (although this would help her delivering the “Fire” material) because there are already so many bands with women singing that way while Giada here seems to be quite good at handling lower and more powerful vocals… and there are many examples in the actual “new wave of doom heavy metal with p***y on vocals”, just think of Jex Thoth! Add that Etro shares also the same hair colour with Thoth and les jeux sont faits. 😉 Back to our review, what we have next is “The Ever-Changing”, a track more difficult to get which proves what the guys are able to do when they let their doom roots grow free in the musical ground. If Giada didn’t sing that operatic (she did it perfectly but it’s the same as above; think of Mariangela Demurtas singing old Tristania songs, she does it wonderfully but what is unmatchable is her contralto voice, making her resemble a Grace Slick in a metal band) this would be a real 10/10 track! Heavy, melancholic, f**koff guitars, also a bit of evil floating in the background and you have something Draconian would die to write.
Fifth song is “Meant to Stray”, which I admit is a song I still have to fully understand, even after dozens of listenings. It’s an average midtempo song which simply doesn’t impress me like the others, with a certain mainstream rock vibe in it. Following is one of the highlights of the album, smartly chosen as first promo single already back last April. “Summers End”, as I commented on YouTube me myself, is an instant classic, without any doubts one of the best songs the band ever created and I would like to speak face to face to both older and newer fans saying it’s a bad piece. It’s one of those rare songs that immediately grow on you AND even after you listen to it so many times like I did, it’s always like the first time. A soft arpeggio introduces Giada who delivers her most passionate interpretation, so full of emotion, in one of the most beautiful vocal lines of the whole album. Lyrics are so meaningful, yet simple and straight, proving that you don’t need complicated metaphors to let your inner feelings out: after all, anything you feel is plain and direct inside your heart and mind (and soul, according to track number three!) so why should it become complex and twisted when you give it to the world?
Is this human nature
Are we designed this way
To be unhappy, so uncertain
To live in fear every day
Yet in the affairs of the heart we dwell naïve
So childishly gullible and willing to forgive
And when we’re left with nothing but the choking pain
We hope it will be washed away by the autumn rain
Aiming something straight like in this case does not take the magic of the music off, on the contrary it helps you to drown even more in the cloth weaven by the notes. In the middle of the song, before male vocals have their say, we have another beautiful, short guitar solo that comes to life again later on. Also the violin allows to build the whole atmosphere and the initial arpeggio ends the song nicely – one of AYL‘s flaws is that the end of the songs too often stops sort of abruptly. So we arrive to the seventh track “Reality Sad”, a good and heavy stone thrown at you without mercy. Berislav, Matija, Luka and Sasa produced other grinding moments that live will truly smash crowds. Oddly enough, first listenings to this track brought some similarities with Salt Lake City-based band Subrosa to my ears. I should have said “oddly to the maximum”, because Subrosa are one of those bands you just cannot describe without sounding too devoted to be objective or anyway, without failing in giving a rightful impression. If you who are reading this love doom metal, both ol’ school one and modern styles, if you like stoner/sludge, The Sins of Thy Beloved, ’80s darkwave, heavy guitars dissstorted, avantgardness and pure magic in the end, go check them out. Well, fact is that we have doom in both bands, we have violin in both bands, and female vocals too, and above all, the reason why I thought of the comparison, a similarity in the way guitars and vocals speak to each other, the emission of vocals and the sharpness of the axes, maybe it’s just me I get this because of the production but hey, that’s the impression I had. “The Cure” does not have anything to do with the new wave band but is a beautiful violin interlude; too bad it’s so short because it would’ve been quite original to have it as a full song – and please note that I usually don’t like instrumentals. Final track is “…For Happiness” which sadly sounds too anonymous than the rest of the album, definitely not a highlight for me. It isn’t a bad song, it also has a good crescendo but as we use to say here in Italy, it’s “not meat nor fish”. Personally I would have chosen some other ending, maybe with more impact but I’m glad they didn’t make any suite or whatsoever because for me it’s the same speech as for instrumentals. But hell! We don’t have pompous, orchestral metal here luckily! Even though it would be interesting to see a band this kind having their hands into a long, long track that is actually a suite and not a common deathdoomgothic metal llllooong, slllooowww song.
Now, I have already mentioned some major flaws here and there when I met them but now it’s time to face the two biggest ones which motivated me to lower my final mark even despite all the love I have for this band (so you see, in the end I succeeded in being impartial!). First one: this is not a doom metal album as the label or the band promoted it and Ashes You Leave are not a tout court doom metal band since ten years. I don’t know whose fault is this but if you actually look at promo stuff or statements and you don’t know the band you’ll easily expect something totally different, like Shape of Despair or Funeral, or even like early Theatre of Tragedy which is without any more words different from what it is and from what the band is nowadays. However, I must also say, especially for newbies, that doom metal is NOT necessarily slowed down to death and does NOT necessarily have to feature all those elements metalheads usually like about the aforementioned bands. Black Sabbath and Pentagram don’t use growl vocals, don’t have female fairies chanting ethereally, don’t have soaring keyboards or orchestral effects and don’t have lyrics that deal with shakespearean love. It’s a fact that too many young guys think that doom metal is restricted to My Dying Bride or early Anathema and that doom-gothic metal is restricted to Draconian or early Theatre of Tragedy which is completely false. But that is not the full point here; “The Cure for Happiness” depicts usual elements of doom metal, both old and new, but it’s simply not SO doom as one might think. It’s a different kind of sadness hehe. They’re too fast for those who have Unholy‘s and Thergothon‘s logos tattoed on their arms and too slow and heavy for most “femalefrontedmetal” (=mellowmainstreamstuff) fans. So if you like or want to explore the middle path or enjoy milestones like Theatre of Tragedy‘s “Aegis” or “Forever Is the World” or Tristania‘s “Rubicon” or “Ashes” this album is definitely worth your attention, otherwise you might be disappointed. Second big flow is, for the one who speaks, a mistake they’re doing since 2002’s “Fire” album. The production. Everything here is crystalline, polished, well done. Fact is that it’s TOO crystalline and polished. It lacks a kind of ravishness which would go along so greatly with the guitar-laden melodies (one of the best points here, don’t worry: no keys to build the songs, as it’s supposed to be in metal): actually guitars are so sharp and heavy that it’s a big pity they don’t have so much impact. I say that this was to be detected also on the two previous albums because on the slower first three ones it fitted more, it added to the decadence of the atmosphere, hopelessness and desolation matched by the sound itself. But here it just seems like attacking an army of soldiers with guns and rifles riding a horse and throwing arrows. Moreover, I think vocals are often pushed in front too much and to me (personally) it gives the impression they are not well blended together with the other instruments. Like having your singers doing their job in the kitchen with the rest of the band playing in the living room! So mostly because of this I gave this album the mark you see hereunder but I hope the review says way more than a single number. Plus, it wants to be a kick in the ass for the band to be pushed to do even better next time, so it’s because I trust them a lot that I want to force them to improve again more and more, even after all these years.
Rating – 79/100
Ashes You Leave is the most famous Croatian female fronted gothic metal band, founded back in 1995 whent the genre was flourishing thanks to legends like Theatre of Tragedy and Tristania. Their earlier releases are very doom oriented, paying tribute to their main source of inspiration: UK doom band My Dying Bride.With time they developed their sound, mixing it with more atmospheric elements and entering the realm of gothic-doom. In the meanwhile they changed three vocalists and at present an Italian girl fronts the band: Giada Etro.This is their sixth album and compared to the previous one is more guitar oriented even though guitars and violin have not been forgotten as the opener “Devil in Disguise” shows.The song is long, but the vocals are very melodic and make everything more bearable, she has got the classic pop voice and makes everything brighter. Even riffs are more melodic compared to what I have listened of their early releases.First three tracks follow the same formula: long gothic melodic songs with atmospheric inserts of keyboards and violins and growls that appear here and there to contrast Giada angelic voice. In the “The Ever Changing”, the song leans more on the doom side with flute and violins, while Giada shows that she can be versatile, using her voice in a darker, semi-operatic way.There is a beautiful atmospheric bridge with violin in the second half of the song. “Meant to Stray” is maybe one of the heaviest on the album due to great presence of growl and guitar riffs matched by violin in background. “Summers End” is more rock oriented than metal, while “Reality Sad” is a shorther song that does not offer much more if compared to the previous songs. “The Cure” is an acoustic break of a minute and a half that will leave you relived after all that metal. Closing track is “For Happiness”, classic gothic metal, very guitar oriented. The album is perfect if you are a classic gothic-doom metal lover, if you are nostalgic of the early sound of this kind of music.
Rating – 65/100
- Devil in Disguise
- Only Ashes You Leave
- For The Heart, Soul and Mind
- The Ever Changing
- Meant to Stray
- Summers End
- Reality Sad
- The Cure
- For Happiness
- Giada Etro – Vocals
- Berislav “Bero” Poje – Guitars & Vocals
- Matija Rempešić – Guitars
- Ana Torić – Keyboards & Flute
- Marta Batinic – Violin
- Luka Petrovic – Bass & Vocals
- Saša Vukosav – Drums
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