I’m not one to fawn over things unless they are worthy of praise. As PR cycles for bands and releases get more aggressive and fast-paced, it’s inevitable that some great releases fall by the wayside only to be unearthed after some time passes and the dust has settled. (For non-writer folks, that means after the carnival that is EOY lists.) Thanks to Metal Bandcamp Gift Club, Atten Ash‘s absolutely stellar melodic death/doom displayed on The Hourglass won me over very quickly and is worthy of all the accolades I can throw at it. The whole point of Sepulchral Saturday is to cover things that were we missed, and this certainly fits –– it originally saw release in 2012 and was brought back to the light after Hypnotic Dirge Records did a physical release last February. I’m so behind.
As the resident Sad Guy of Nine Circles, I’m drawn like a moth to bug zappers when it comes to melodic, atmospheric doom/death metal. While it would be simple to make the normal comparisons of Atten Ash to outfits such as October Tide, November’s Doom, and Daylight Dies –– all of which are close in sound –– there’s a beautiful finesse and maturity to The Hourglass. It incorporates elements of post-rock, choral and symphonic motifs, prog-tinged songwriting, and fantastic guitar solos that add to its replay value and elevate it above being more than another bland entry in a rather crowded field of doom metal. It runs an emotional gamut from red-eyed fury to grey despondency without ever once veering into overly sentimental territory; even its most depressingly bleak moments have a contemplative glow, such as the gorgeously layered combinations of guitar and vocals on “Song for the Dead.”
One of the most impressive aspects of The Hourglass is how excellently Atten Ash use empty space. They don’t use it like most doom bands, where every single open spot is crammed with either guitar feedback or ungodly amounts of artificial reverb. Instead, the details contained within the more sparse sections of music is breathtaking. The closing title track starts with stacatto heavy guitars, but in between the chords, a beautiful collision of synths and layered clean picking form the foundation for a wrenching, woeful chorus and harmonized vocals in the rest of the song. Likewise, “First Day,” while starting with sustained, echoing chords, relies on a floating guitar arpeggio to keep the song’s momentum, and it works like a charm before the vocals center themselves on top of lead guitars. Finally, while usually only traditional doom metal is known for extensive guitar solos, Atten Ash aren’t afraid to show off their instrumental prowess: “See You… Never” has one of the most blistering solos on the album, and opener “City in the Sea” switches solos fluently before an Opethian section carries the song forward.
Frankly, I’m kicking myself for not picking up on this album sooner, and it should have ended up on my EOY list. But hey, thank goodness for awesome, generous people and #MetalBandcampGiftClub to bestow the brilliance of Atten Ash on me. The Hourglass is top-tier doom/death that belongs among the more well-known names of the genre, and while it has been criminally overlooked in the past year, I’ll make the claim that it deserves far more exposure. Buy this immediately and fall into its depths.