Scottish people take their socialism seriously, unlike the champagne socialists of England whose idea of class solidarity is a debate in the student union bar and a pledge to identify new minorities in need of protection from future oppression. The Glaswegian collective of Ashenspire are part of the red and anarchist black metal (RABM) movement, which sounds like it could be as much fun as visiting a dentist for a routine check-up. Let this not deter you. Group auto-didact, Alasdair Dunn, plays in blackened-death metal outfit, Tyrannus, who released one of the best debut albums of 2022. Likewise, bassist, Ben Brown, is a staple in Falloch, one of Glasgow’s most abstract metal bands who started as a post-rock project but now dwell in a darker avant-doom domain. It goes without saying that Ashenspire’s DNA is towards the experimental, but their sophomore album is beyond classification.
First thing we must do is dispel the notion that Ashenspire play black metal. Their music is far too sophisticated and much scarier than the infantile satanism that pervades through extreme metal’s most saturated genre. What could be more dangerous to society – harmless Lucifer worship or an earnest veneration of socialism in the perceived era of late-stage capitalism? Opener, ‘The Law of Abestos’, starts with dreamy saxophones and effulgent acoustic guitar chords with a jazz fusion beat which dances on the edges of common time like the theme tune to the classic detective dramas of the 1980s. You’ll scratch your head and wonder if you’ve tuned into a Maudlin of the Well record. Listen how the fluttering violin and neo-thrash guitar riffs combine like fire and water. Dunn’s voice is like a performance art spectacle in the theatre – his sharp Scottish inflections burn with righteous indignation. Imagine Imperial Triumphant covering Captain Beefheart with a hysterical anger tamed only by the welcome interludes of harpsichord and saxophone.
In the words of the band, the aim of Hostile Architecture is to explore ‘the ways that subjects under late capitalism are constrained and set in motion via the various structures that uphold stratification and oppression in urban contexts.’ If that doesn’t thrill you, how about the blast beats and saxophone shrills of ‘Béton Brut’ set to the anxiety of dissonant guitars? Dunn’s vocals are more like performance poetry than testosterone release. You can envisage renowned actor, Ewen Bremner, on stage and among the soliloquys in this song. “Stare into that void all you like/ It won’t meet your gaze/ When you can’t see the stars/ You stop dreaming of space,” cries Dunn. This is metal of the art school where Neurosis meet Thy Catafalque. You could even call it blackened post-hardcore, like a metallic interpretation of The Shape of Punk to Come by Refused. ‘Plattenbau Persephone Praxis’ would qualify for the Monterey Jazz festival if not for the vertiginous guitar strumming and sporadic blast beats. How else can you describe ‘How the Mighty Have Vision’ other than a post-hardcore band composing for The Trio Bulgarka? Guest opera singer, Rylan Gleave, has the power to move the earth with his tears. His soprano partner, Maud the Moth, can summon the angels with her golden pipes. This is a stunning ensemble piece in any genre of music.
The criminal thing here would be to overlook the exquisite musicianship of Hostile Architecture. They might be political radicals, but Ashenspire are also on a mission to fertilise their musical abilities in new pastures. Dunn is not just the agitator on this record – his drum work seldom lands the beat where you expect it. ‘Tragic Heroin’ and ‘Apathy as Arsenic Lethargy as Lead’ mix chugging guitar techniques with extinguishing chord accents and use Dunn’s snares to flirt with polyrhythms. You’ll enjoy the jazz improv feel of the latter as much as the instrumental brilliance of ‘Palimpsest’. Again, we’re back in the claustrophobic urban city of the 1980s detective drama with saxophone ruminations, spiccato violins and autonomous bass guitar patterns. You ask the question – did they arrive at their Marxist beliefs in music college? Few musicians can reach this level of mutual understanding and expressionism without a formal education in the craft.
Art with this level of fervency and experimentation demands your attention, regardless of your political colours. Everyone will celebrate the latest Imperial Triumphant album as the new frontier in avant-garde metal, but we in the UK should be looking closer to home for a mesmerising experience. This is an impressive piece of work.
Release Date: 15/07/2022
Record Label: Aural Records
Standout tracks: The Law of Abestos, Béton Brut, How the Mighty Have Vision
Suggested Further Listening: Maudlin of the Well – Bath (2001), Refused – The Shape of Punk to Come (1998), Imperial Triumphant – Spirit of Ecstasy (2022)