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Album Reviews

Album Review: The Ember The Ash – Fixation

 

 

 

Release Date: 14th May 2021

Label: Prosthetic Records

FFO: Dimmu Borgir, Abigail Williams, Lorna Shore

 

Picture, if you will, the grandiose soundscapes conjured by bands such as Dimmu Borgir or early Abigail Williams. The blackened tremolo riffs, the symphonic bombast and majestic soundscapes. Now take all of that and inject it with the kind of breakdowns you’d expect at a metalcore or deathcore show. As incongruous as it sounds and as unlikely as such a combination is to work, work it does. 

Take the second album Fixation from the musical mastermind known only as 鬼, released under the moniker The Ember, The Ash. It’s a howling storm of frosty black metal, piercing screams and breakdowns in one incredibly ambitious package. Opener ‘Strychnine’ starts with eerie chimes and whispers that heralds a dissonant, chugging breakdown. So far, so metalcore. After this though, it picks up into a stomping groove with acerbic howls before breaking down once more. As far as introductions go, it attempts to set the scene but doesn’t quite showcase the full range of 鬼’s ambitions. 

The title track does a far better job, introducing more symphonic elements and a broader spectrum of sounds including cleaner vocals fed through a synthesizer that gives a somewhat robotic feel to them. There’s an off-kilter riff underpinned by blastbeats just past the halfway mark that balances the blackened elements with the metalcore very successfully. It sits before a moment that wouldn’t be out of place on a modern deathcore album, before the song ends with electronic drumming. It’s a weird choice that doesn’t quite seem to fit with what’s come before and while it’s clear there’s plenty of musical ambition and talent, it doesn’t entirely stick the landing. 

As Fixation progresses it finds its feet better; ‘Becoming The Eidolon’ has some serious groove to its blackened metalcore, throwing in progressive tendencies and some lush, classically-inspired instrumentation along with the symphonic elements. ‘The Colossal Void’ has some serious Dimmu Borgir-esque grandiosity fused with technical metalcore, the swirling maelstrom trapping all in its techy, icy embrace. 

As the album continues, there’s flashes of brilliance in the melding of genres, such as the aforementioned ‘Becoming The Eidolon’ and ‘The Colossal Void’. But for every one of these, there’s moments that don’t stick or feel incongruous. The closing moments of ‘Fixation’, for instance, are at odds with what came before and ‘Celestial Fracture’ throws everything in  including the kitchen sink, leaving things feeling messy and disjointed. 

Dealing with the bleaker moments of mental health and being rooted in the loss of a loved one, the atmosphere on Fixation is sombre throughout, occasionally plunging into the depths as it deals with themes of spiralling negative thought patterns and suicidal ideation. This atmosphere is the strongest point of the album as it ensures a constant source of tension and emotion; closing track ‘Consciousness Torn From The Void’ is a sprawling, ten-minute exploration of all that came before with multiple twists and turns. It closes things unexpectedly on an incredibly bleak note and it’s arguably the strongest track on the record, closely followed by its predecessor ‘A Growing Emptiness’. 

There’s a lot going on throughout Fixation; sometimes it feels a bit too much and songs can collapse under the weight of their own extravagance or ambition. It feels that the more symphonic blackened elements are the strongest, despite also being the parts that play to genre conventions or ape their influences the most. When it’s good, it’s very good, but it’s let down by overambition and a production that renders it constantly overwhelming, without allowing for nuance.

Rating: 6/10

Recommended tracks: Becoming The Eidolon, A Growing Emptiness, Consciousness Torn From The Void

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