So, I don’t think any of us have forgotten that the last, oh I don’t know, eighteen months or so have been something of a nightmare, but I think it is also worth pointing out that California in particular has had a rough go of it in recent memory (as some people might be willing to attest to). Shantel Amundson, mastermind behind Illudium, is one of those people who was deeply affected by the conflagration that spread over large chunks of the state that she calls home and draws musical inspiration from, and Ashes of the Womb, the newest release from the dreamy, gloomy trio, reflects upheaval on an environmental and personal level.
Ashes of the Womb, the sophomore release from Amundson and company, is a profound reflection on the literal and metaphorical cycle of destruction and healing that fire brings about. While her home state was burning with no end in sight, Amundson was also going through personal issues all at the same time she was trying to write and record a new album. If that sounds like it’ll make for a particularly dark and intense album, you’d absolutely be right. “Walking through the fire and building a healing center from ashes is the overall message and vision of this album,” explains Amundson. “The lyrics deal mostly with the human body and its vulnerability through the transitions of life. They examine the natural cycles of birth, growth, death, and rebirth. Death within the womb and life within the tomb.” Musically, Ashes of the Womb carries a much heavier emphasis on heavier and gloomier elements than 2016’s Septem, while still keeping the band’s trademark delicate beauty and sun-drenched California atmosphere. Rounding out the trio and providing the rhythm section beneath Amundson’s wails and vibrant guitar work are Josef Hossian-Kay and Gregory Wesenfeld on bass and drums, respectively (Wesenfeld has since been replaced by Trevor Deschryver, of Deafheaven and Wolves in the Throne Room fame), as well as Jack Shirley on mastering duties, who adds his own spectacular je ne sais quoi that really pulls all the pieces together.
It’s hard to believe that a sound so thick can come from a trio, but Illudium really showcase just how much noise three people can make. Ashes of the Womb is an exercise in dynamics, from every angle and every instrument. Amundson’s vocals run the gamut of delicate croons and pained wimpers to full on belting and wailing; the guitars seamlessly shift back and forth from beautiful, soft arpeggiated chords to frantic distorted chaos and back again multiple times in the same song. Even the drum work gets into the spirit, with simple but effective passages of delicate accompaniment giving way to full on frenzy that drives the groove forward relentlessly. The shortest song on Ashes of the Womb is still over six minutes long, but no song on here feels boring; everything moves in bite-sized waves that are both easily digestible and emotionally stirring. It’s the perfect combination for an album to beg repeated listens, which Ashes most certainly does. The extra smattering of heaviness does wonders to open up the sound and provide even more textural elements to pop, which is to say nothing of the energy is brings behind Amundson’s mesmerizing voice.
It’s immediately apparent that Ashes of the Womb is a deeply personal and emotional album. Listening to Amundson speak so eloquently about hurt and loss almost feels wrong somehow, like spying on a person, but that is the nature of making music like this; there is an unspoken relationship between listener and artist that leaves us privy to personal details from someone most of us have never met before. A lot of beauty has the potential to open up from that, and Ashes of the Womb shows a wonderful slice of that.