A celebration and examination of two albums, intertwined somehow in time and space, that also happen to be some of the finest music on the planet.
Written by: Chuck
Gentle waves embrace a rocky landscape. An ominous wash of colored sounds accented by gentle intermittent piano strokes. A feeling of intrigue and subtle panic. FIRE. The ground shakes and the landscape transforms into anticipatory grandeur. Something important this way comes. This is "The Behemoth That Lies Asleep."
A familiar melody. A latin feel. Dynamic rhythmic movement across a soft fretboard. A moment to think. A moment to feel. Full throated restatement of the melodic progression arrives as a complete arrangement, quickly progressing into blast-beat driven black-ish riffs backed by fretless bass. Despite the already impressive technical display, the instrumentation is last on the mind. This is a moment to think. This is a moment to feel. This is "Introspection I."
Those being among the many disciples of two of the best albums of 2022 will immediately recognize the descriptions of the powerhouse opening tracks of An Abstract Illusion – Woe and Tómarúm - Ash in Realms of Stone Icons. This is an examination, and in fact a celebration, of two albums of the year that will endure and reverberate far beyond the waning days of 2022. These are no question all time classics; albums that incite passion of the soul with their enveloping essence of perfection, coupled with the many specific moments of emotionally gripping art that claim ownership of the pieces of us satiated by sonic emotional triumph.
"Slaves," (Woe) starts as a kick to the head, and a warning that this album will be unrelenting. It immediately shows flashes of technical precision while yet being exceptionally heavy. Heavy in this case specifically referring to the thick, cutting guitar, fully represented drum mix and some of the finest death growls you will ever hear. The most captivating part of this song is the incredible stylistic shift produced at around 2:34 when An Abstract Illusion, in 2022, sounds a bit like Dream Theater in 1992. It is simply stunning how the band pulls this off while losing exactly none of their heavy edge. "Slaves" in itself is a journey, yet there is far further to traverse. "Tear Down This Holy Mountain" is a natural extension of "Slaves" and is where the band full reveals the range they possess, and also when it becomes impossible to ignore how well produced and mixed this album is. The passage beginning at 6:50 is a great example of the perfect spatial placement and clarity of each instrument. Three tracks into Woe and it is clear this is an elite album.
"Condemned to a Life of Grief" (Ash) holds the distinction of my favorite song title of the year. It also bears a striking structural resemblance to "Slaves" in that it introduces the main theme of the album, drives it forward, and sets up the interplay amongst the rest of the songs, generally seamlessly interwoven. Tómarúm brings much more of a black metal feel to their work and it is clearly the dominant influence mixed with progressive and death themes throughout. The band also plays a much more straightforward driving style as opposed to multiple tempo and stylistic shifts, common to Woe and sparse on Ash. "Condemned" is punishing and escalatory in that, despite the constant blistering tempo, the band expertly increases the feeling of intense struggle in each passage through the end of the song. "In This Empty Space" continues this trend and sets up the defining moment of the album.
Ash in Realms of Stone Icons is quite simply one of the bleakest albums, lyrically, one could ever experience. It is pure despondency exclusively focused on a solitary journey to death. The depths of the lyrics cannot be understated just as they cannot be adequately summarized. There is some seriously dark introspection going on here which highlights an internal battle that appears oddly serene and content on the path towards death. The lyrics of Woe are more allegorical, religious and predatory. Rather than an internal dialogue, the conflict and themes are external, focused corruption of the innocent, pollution of the soul, blackening of our purified light via an outside aggressor. Both sets of lyrics are emotionally jarring and place holds on the psyche long after each listen.
If the two masterpieces differ in the lyrical approaches, they retain a strong bond in their crowning musical passages that are unmistakable to even a casual listener. Ash’s pinnacle moment is clearly at 6:20 of "Where No Warmth is Found" when the "Introspection II" melody is overlaid on the beautifully brutal outro section to close the epic track. The genius of the arrangement of the album truly comes together at this moment and shines a bright light on an otherwise dark subject. These moments seem to be all over Woe, the listener is free to take their pick of which speaks to them most clearly. The closing two tracks are especially poignant, connected seamlessly together, they are two tracks that are really one stunning closing monument to the band’s realization of their greatness.
Ash is magnanimous and transcendent. Woe is intricate, beautifully arranged and brilliantly executed. These are easily among the top albums of the decade; placement in the yearly rankings is a foregone conclusion. Neither band has an extensive back catalog yet both possibly have already produced their respective magnum opus. These albums are two of a perfect pair; captivating in emotional register, compelling in impeccable performance, and quite simply addictive compliments to the pantheon of perfect albums.
Shrieks of horror echoes
I fuel on the agony and hatred of your victims
I dwell in the shadows
Awaiting desperate calls
Phasing through worlds
I remove your stolen wings
And expose your putrid soul
As I bid farewell
I let the last of my blood
To become no more
To, at last, feel nothing
When I transcend form
Let my memory fade to naught
As if I never existed
And despair will start to disappear
Woe - An Abstract Illusion was released Sept. 9th, 2022 via Willowtip Records. Find it here!
Tómarúm - Ash in Realms of Stone Icons was May 6th, 2022 via Prosthetic Records. Find it here!
Author's bio: Chuck has been living on a healthy diet of Metal and pizza since age 14. He believes Peter Steele is a god and that Deliverance/ Damnation is a better album than Blackwater Park. He writes (poorly) for Sleeping Village Reviews since 2020.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.