Written by Kep
Ashen – Ritual of Ash
> Death metal
> Releasing January 13
> Bitter Loss Records
Perth four-piece Ashen released a particularly impressive debut EP, Godless Oath, back in August of 2021 and left death metal fans the world over on the watch for a full-length. Their hard-hitting, no-frills approach was the sort of thing that made for immediate impact: riffs on riffs on riffs, monstrous roars, and no bullshit to distract from the infectious death grooves, all tied together by crisp, punchy modern production. It was a recipe for success if there ever was one, and the only thing really necessary for a killer first LP was to, y’know, keep on cooking.
And keep on cooking they have, because what we have in Ritual of Ash is more of all of what we loved in Godless Oath. It’s a hefty slab of quality death metal, and it’s a highly enjoyable 38 minutes. This is meat and potatoes listening, rock solid shit with no obvious faults. Now, their style is straightforward and relatively simple, so the meat isn’t necessarily the fanciest cut—consider it more of a tasty sirloin than a filet mignon or a marbled ribeye—but it’s goddamn satisfying. Forget the frills, gimme salt and cracked pepper, maybe a little rosemary, sear that baby in a cast iron pan, let’s get eating. I mean listening. Shit, I got a little carried away there.
Metaphors aside, though, Ritual of Ash is an extremely solid outing from a band that clearly already has their feet under them. There’s no pretentiousness, just a dedication to delivering immense death metal grooves. If you like your guitarwork hard-hitting and free of wankery then this is the record for you, and it’s clear from the moment that opener “Ritual” churns into gear with a powerful riff built for headbanging, sinking those hooks right in. It’s the first of many that I found myself humming or bobbing my head to as I played it in my mind around the house. The name of the game here is hearty licks that feel direct and are straight up enough to immediately latch onto.
Don’t let that make you think Ashen’s music is boring, though. The record is full of clever little touches that keep the songs interesting. Sometimes the interest is related to rhythm: in the aforementioned track “Ritual”, for example, they juxtapose triplets over duple framework in several places, and closer “Inhuman” takes a weighty lilting stoner-y riff and shifts meters around it multiple times as the song progresses. Other times the interest is in adjusting harmonies over the course of a track, like how the chorus riff in “Deadsight” is first played in two-part harmony and then later in unison with a driving tremolo on the final note for a more aggressive, biting feel.
Guitarist Shannon Over has a knack for those immensely gratifying and highly economical sort of mid-tempo riffs that carry a lot of weight without being busy. The band does a lot with their musical ideas, essentially building each song on a few core elements and then getting the most out of them with wrinkles like adjusting drum patterns and adding or subtracting harmony. “Gravemind” is emblematic of what they do, with its massive main riff that juts upward like a stone pillar on beats 1 and 3 to open and close the track. There’s a simple driving verse riff that’s first played in unison tremolo and then changed into broken harmonized chugs, a few moments of full-throated blasting, and a beefy stomping moment later on, but the ideas are all tied tightly together by that opening and closing idea of a strong upward thrust on beats 1 and 3. Their songwriting makes for cohesive tracks across the runtime.
The production is quite good too; it’s that clean modern sound that doesn’t sacrifice any of the nasty serrated edge in the guitars. I do wish at times that Ben Mazzarol’s drums were a bit further back in the mix, though, as when they’re at their more busy and aggressive moments they have a tendency to cover the guitars. That’s a relatively minor complaint considering how good the album sounds overall. Frontman Richard Clements is a thunderous presence on vocals (and shows off a surprising amount of range to boot), and bassist Josh Harris’ robust tone is a boulder-sized rock to build sound atop. No weak links in this ensemble.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If you’re looking to kick off 2023 with a hearty and satisfying death metal meal, look no further. This is the sort of rock-solid release that’s likely to stay in rotation for the year’s duration, and while it’s not going to be lauded for revolutionizing the death metal recipe, you’d be a fool not to dig in to a dish like this.