Five long years after the release of The Dead Walk Among Us, Adorned in Ash are back with their sophomore album, bringing a more refined, mature sound and vision for their hybrid metal, which in addition to the death/thrash/groove/black influences, now also incorporates some progressive elements into nearly an hour of crushing heaviness.
Although only releasing two full length albums, Adorned in Ash was founded in 2009 and have toured extensively within Africa. Over the years, as one might imagine, the band has seen some lineup changes that have impacted their sound, with likely one of the more obvious ones was guitarist Robyn Ferguson adding vocal duties and taking them over from Marius Visagie in 2011. Robyn’s blend of higher pitched near shriek-like black metal vocals and deeper growls and ability to switch back and forth within a song add a unique element to the band’s overall sound. Within their home of South Africa, the band has been consistently nominated in the South African Metal Music Awards, and winning best Death Metal Band in 2015. Since the release of the critically acclaimed The Dead Walk Among Us, the band has done extensive touring throughout the region and members endured a number of personal challenges. Some of the lesser known details around the recording of Apocalyptic Violence play a part in the overall sonic differences between this and their first album, one of which were the drums being recorded on an acoustic kit at the Drum Room by Vinnie Henrico who was Mark Ivey’s drum lecturer in college. Guitars were recorded by Robyn Ferguson at Tower Studios and the vocals, mixing, and mastering done by Clinton Watts at Watts Productions, a name very familiar to those in the South Africa metal community.
Normally, intro tracks bother me, but with an album running close to an hour, the ominous thunderstorm, church bells, and trumpet beginning to “The End Has Begun” is a fitting opening. “The Day the Sky Rolls Up” which was the first single by the band immediately follows and immediately the difference in sound compared to “The Dead Walk Among Us” becomes apparent. Production and mixing are excellent and the sound has a much fuller feel compared to the starkness in their first album. Robyn’s mix of low, near guttural growls and higher pitched near shriek-like vocals jump out again almost as if the band had two vocalists. Mark Ivey’s drum work with multiple tempo changes and of course some very fast double bass provides a great backdrop to the song. The guitar solo that essentially closes out the song, comes in an instrumental section something guitarist Robyn Ferguson has been exploring in solo material on her album Alizarin.
“Defy Your God” is a much more straightforward song and literally explodes into life from the beginning, settling into a fast melodic groove punctuated by Robyn’s vocal delivery. Drumming is much faster in general on this track and Robyn employs some vocal elements some may find similar to those Dave Draiman of Disturbed, but in the similarity is slight. The way the two guitars are layered in the overall sound is great to hear as they each provide a slightly different contribution at times. “Crimson to Dust” is also one of those songs that immediately jumps into life but in this case the sound comes in more of a staccato like burst to start before things get really fast, which highlights not only the fast guitar riffs but also the rumbling thunder of the rhythm section. As if keeping in mind the holiday timed release of the album, the band have reworked “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”, a track they originally recorded for a metal Christmas compilation several years ago. The guitar harmony in the beginning is great and the overall pacing of the verse sections is outstanding and brings out some of the fast, pounding snare work from Mark Ivey that characterized the band’s first release. Having the breakdown section go into the guitar solo and then abruptly switch into the acoustic beginning of the instrumental “The Mountains in Reply” was a great touch.
The bright airy instrumental leads into one of the most aggressive guitar openings on the album. “The God that Bleeds” opens up with what sounds like an interpretation of Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption but played with some serious aggression…the contrast to the instrumental before it is nearly too large to comprehend, and it catches me by surprise every time I hear it and the intensity doesn’t let up from there even though the song itself does have its melodic moments.
Breaking down the album by song, it does become apparent that the longer tracks which are over 5:30 are the ones carrying more of the progressive elements while the shorter songs, simply go for the throat from start to finish. Of the longer tracks, “Beauty for Ashes” would be the standout track for me. The calm, clean guitar opening and punctuated by the thumping bass before both guitars come in to play the opening riff and jump into a very fast groove carried along by Mark Ivey’s ultra-fast drum work and varying rhythm patterns simply makes for a great opening and then Robyn’s vocals switching back and forth as the band drives along like a locomotive is so powerful. Songs like this exemplify the maturity of the band in terms of songcraft and how they worked to incorporate new elements into their sound. The shorter, faster songs on the album show a distinct progression in sound that one would expect from a band that has played together for years since their last release, but the longer songs bring in new elements that provide a fresh feel to the album. When you listen to Apocalyptic Violence back to back with The Dead Walk Among Us, which is another of my favorite albums, the difference becomes immediately obvious but Adorned in Ash have not lost anything that was good on their first album, simply refined it and augmented it.
Fittingly, the band close out the album with the two part, “Death is My Embrace”, starting with part I “From a Distant Shore” with all its speed and ferocity that begins from the opening incredibly fast riff and the instrumental never lets up until part II “The Call of Evermore” begins with its clean guitar and great supporting bass line that eventually increases in intensity and band comes in at full volume and the band with some blistering guitar solos, solid rhythm work and relentless drumming never lets up until the end…just as one would hope.
On Apocalyptic Violence, Adorned in Ash show the types of changes one hopes for in a band. Everything that made The Dead Walk Among Us great has been retained, like the phenomenal performances and vocal elements, and the band has added more complexity to the arrangements and incorporated new elements while also improving the overall mixing and production, giving them a more thunderous, powerful overall sound.
Written by John Jackson
- The End Has Begun
- The Day the Sky Rolls Up
- Defy Your God
- Crimson to Dust
- Gloria in Excelsis Deo
- The Mountains in Reply
- The God That Bleeds
- Blood Grace
- The Death of Lucifer
- Inner Sanctum
- Trees of Righteousness
- Beauty for Ashes
- Death is my Embrace I: From a Distant Shore
- Death is my Emberace II: The Call of Evermore
Mark Ivey− Drums
Robyn Ferguson – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Marinus Terblanche − Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Leon van Rensburg − Guitar, Backing Vocals
Release Date: Dec. 20th. 2019
Record Label: Independent
“The Dead Walk Among Us” (2014) [review]
“Apocalyptic Violence” (2019)
Video (audio) for “Apocalyptic Violence” (album stream)