Askara traces their roots back to 2012 in Basel, Switzerland when Myriam Schmidt (Vocals/Piano), Benjamin Wiesli (Guitar/Vocals), Elia Schmidt (Bass/Vocals) and Raphael Gruenig (Drums) formed the band. The band first gained notoriety in 2013 when one of their earlier songs was released on the compilation Heavy Metal Nation IX on Quam Libet Records. Since that time, the band has been working on the tracks for Horizon of Hope, which was recorded and mixed by Markus Hospenthal at KHE Recording Studio and mastered by Dan Suter at Echochamber for an October 2016 release.
As with any band playing this style of music, comparisons to bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Evanescence are inevitable, so I’ll just get those mentions out of the way. My ears do actually pick up a good bit of similarity in vocals between Amy Lee of Evanescence and Myriam Schmidt of Askara, not only in overall tone but also in more subtle areas like approach and phrasing and transitions between quiet and forceful. Musically, Askara is solid and in keeping with the goth metal style, piano and keyboards to play a prominent role in the overall sound, adding to the atmosphere, ever present and discernible, but not dominant in the mix, which gets me to the production which is very clean and works well with this style. Guitars and drums are dominant in the mix when they need to be but in the quieter moments, the keyboards and piano come to the forefront and the vocals are never lost in either setting. As for the vocals, there are the clean female vocals which are really work incredibly well as Myriam Schmidt has not only great talent but also a great sense of how to use that talent. The male vocals, which are sometimes clean, sometimes growled, really seem out of place at times and are not up to par with the female vocals.
Jumping completely out of order for the album, the song “Broken Wing” is my favorite track on the album and is really something special, highlighting what the band does best. The opening piano and vocals are both haunting and beautiful and the interplay between the two just works. When the guitars and drums come in, it only adds to power of the song. A very wise choice for a single off the album and the video being mostly black and white and very simple, stripped down, does a great job of highlighting the performances. I also couldn’t help but spot a Hill to Die Upon shirt on the drummer Raphael Gruenig, which earns some style and credibility points, at least in my book.
My view on the rest of the album is tempered by my relative lack of appreciation for the male vocals, especially the growled ones. I understand the concept of the contrast, but I just don’t think in this case they work well. At the beginning of the album the song “Beyond the Horizon of Hope” takes almost two minutes before the clean female vocals come in and at that point, my view of the song changed for the better. The keyboards and guitar work really well with the clean vocals and the song overall does have that dark, goth metal feel to it. “Identity” changes things up a bit in the vocal department with clean male vocals coming in alongside the female vocals and while I feel those work better than the growled ones, there is still something that sounds out of place to me.
In addition to the aforementioned “Broken Wing”, the songs “My Name” and “Rigor Mortis Animi” both rely on Myriam Schmidt’s vocals to carry the songs and as such, these are among the stronger tracks on the album. “My Name” is the slower of the two and more reliant on the sorrowful piano, while “Rigor Mortis Animi” has a driving guitar riff that carries the song and shows some very different vocal stylings from Myriam in the verse sections, which shows off the range in her abilities and provides some variety to the song.
Horizon of Hope almost seems like a tale of two bands. When the band lets Myriam Scmidt take control of the vocals on the songs, the band goes in one direction but when they incorporate the male vocals, especially the growled ones, the band goes in a different direction, one where I’m less of a fan. That being said, this is an impressive first album. Songs are complex in arrangement often with multiple transitions, but they are handled in a way that doesn’t seem forced. Performances are equally strong and the band has found their overall musical niche and handle it very well. This is an interesting album from start to finish and places Askara among the bands to watch.
Written by John Jackson
1. Beyond The Horizon Of Hope
3. My Name
4. Artefact Of Want
5. Rigor Mortis Animi
6. The Shame
7. Broken Wing
8. Reprise – The Flight
Myriam Schmidt – Vocals, Piano
Elia Schmidt – Growls, Bass
Benjamin Wiesli – Guitars
Raphael Gruenig – Drums
Record Label: Independent, Oct. 2016
Video for ‘Broken Wing’