There’s nothing quite like finding that new band that blows you away, and thanks to Old Timer and former TMR reviewer Don de Necker, I learned about Adorned in Ash. A quick chat and listen to their bandcamp page and I knew this was an album I wanted to review, because where else can you hear black metal mixed with thrash, and death that also has a distinct groove and technical side.
As mentioned, Don de Necker told me about Adorned in Ash and that makes a bit of sense since Adorned in Ash is from South Africa, where Don also resides. More precisely, Adorned in Ash is from Pretoria where the band started in 2008. The next few years saw the band endure tragedy and the loss of a band member and a myriad of lineup changes while at the same time being able to open for bands like Becoming the Archetype. When original vocalist Marius Visagie left the band in 2011, then guitarist Robyn Ferguson stepped up to take over vocal duties in addition to guitar, making Adorned in Ash a female-fronted metal band. In the band’s words, Adorned in Ash “exists for one purpose and one purpose only and that is to bring glory to the One Eternal and Mighty God, who sent His Son Jesus Christ to rescue us from hell…and ourselves.” The debut album, The Dead Walk Among Us, was recorded at Open Track Studios in Pretoria and includes work from all band members since 2010 with Robyn’s vocals updating tracks where needed. Mixing and mastering was done by Robyn Ferguson.
The album kicks off with the sounds of battle followed by the sounding of a shofar (ram’s horn) blown several times followed by silence and the sounds of crows/ravens that immediately leads into the main riff of “Human Torch.” I am immediately reminded of the heavy drum and guitar section from Metallica’s song “One”. Heavy, cool stuff for certain with some ultrafast double bass and blast beats thrown in from time to time. Immediately the listener is also greeted with a deep building growl that turns into a black metal scream. Most of the vocals on this track lean toward the deep growling but what I found unique is the deep growl often builds into the higher pitched scream within a short phrase almost as if the singer is trying to suppress the scream but it is still coming out. Throughout the album there is the mix of deep growl and higher pitched screaming/shrieking that sounds in some cases as if there were two vocalists.
Production on the album is consistently good throughout if a bit light on the bass side of the spectrum (personal preference). Performances are tight and musicianship is excellent. Vocals are clear and at the right level in the mix. Guitars and drums certainly carry the songs along but are not overshadowed by the vocals. Every time I listen to the album I hear more and more of Mark Ivey’s crazy drum work. Given the range of influences the band has and employs in their songs, Mark is a very busy person back there behind the kit. With new bands the challenge is always to describe their sound to those who haven’t heard them and in this case, I think the band does a good job on their Facebook page by citing influences from a number of bands, including: Becoming the Archetype, Antestor, Woe of Tyrants, Synnove, Sympathy, Miseration, Tourniquet, Mortification, Frost Like Ashes, Living Sacrifice, A Hill to Die Upon, and Extol. Lyrically, the songs touch on the subjects of death, sin, hell, and destruction from a Christian viewpoint which adds an air of hope to these dark subjects and the delivery is done with an air of intensity and emotion that shows conviction.
Given all of those influences, one would expect a wide variety of approaches to the songwriting and construction and the album certainly meets those expectations. While some tracks are riffs and drums played at light speed, tracks like “Rendered Innocuous” slow things down, aiming for a more thorough pummeling with the main sections of the song although there are some very fast machine-gun fire drum fills thrown in from time to time. “The Dead Walk Among Us” slows things down to a greater degree and also employs keyboards to supply a somewhat haunting backdrop in the beginning of the song while at the end brings in a guitar solo to end the song. The speed picks right back up with “To the Slaughter” complete with a thrashy opening riff and groovy sections in the rest of the song that even features dueling guitar solos to close things out.
My two favorite tracks on the album are “Evangelion” and “Blood Hunt Labyrinth, “ which I consider to be two of the best songs I’ve heard all year. Pounding drums and fast guitar riff open “Evangelion” which carries with it a driving groove and revisits a variation of the opening riff around the midway part of the song in a way that keeps the listener interested. “Blood Hunt Labyrinth” nearly picks up straight from “Evangelion” and begins much like some songs from the band Unashamed, maybe a blend of their songs “Meet Us Here” and “This Dividing Wall”. The opening is where those similarities end as Adorned in Ash goes into overdrive for parts of “Blood Hunt Labyrinth” and later brings into a sorrowful lead guitar and some clean singing. The rapidfire drumming and riffing really bring a groove into the song and overlaying the clean vocals on top of it really works well if a bit unexpected.
The last track of the album is the song “Broken Glass Reflection” that the band chose to use in their first video and it does serve as good introduction to Adorned in Ash. Driving rhythms, some crazy drums, the growling to scream/shrieking vocals and a definite dark tone to the music adds to the equally impactful video images and properly introduce Adorned in Ash.
For me, one hallmark of a good metal album is one that stays in my car cd player for a long time. In all honesty, a lot of metal albums simply don’t as I’m a hardcore kid and an album by Sick of It All has a much greater chance of staying in the cd player. That being said, “The Dead Walk Among Us” is one of those albums that will stay around for a long time in my car and is probably one of the heaviest albums that I’ve listened to like this for a long time. Nearly every song on this album simply works. They’re heavy and driving all the time, whether slow or fast and from a metal standpoint, the songs are simply catchy, they have that inherent quality that grabs you by the throat, shakes you, and drags you along for the ride.
Written by John Jackson
02. Human Torch
03. Rendered Innocuous
04. Descent To Hell
05. The Dead Walk Among Us
06. To The Slaughter
07. Molested Innocence
09. Blood Hunt Labyrinth
11. Broken Glass Reflection
Mark Ivey− Drums
Robyn Ferguson – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Marinus Terblanche − Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Leon van Rensburg − Guitar, Backing Vocals
Record label: Independent, Feb. 2014
Video for ‘Broken Glass Reflection’