Ascend

Ascend

Ascend

Ample Fire Within

Southern Lord

If you would have told me ten years ago that a dude from Engine Kid and another from Iceburn would be making a record like Ample Fire Within together — snakelike harmonic convergence doom — I would have said you were fucking mental. It’s funny how time changes and expands one’s aesthetics and tastes. Especially the horizons of artists as singularly restless as Gregg Anderson (sunn0))), Engine Kid, Goatsnake) and Gentry Densley (Iceburn, Eagle Twin). Maybe when touring together they bonded over the Melvins, Slint and the more frazzled extremes of jazz fusion. Maybe it was some sort of blood pact to meet up ten years later, after most of the follies of youth were out of their system, and create a more majestic noise. Maybe.

Whatever preconceptions you have about the sound of Ascend going in, they do their level best to dash them. Of course it’s fucking heavy, brain-meltingly so. Of course it’s full of droning, doomy grind, but the shades of Sabbath or Grief or Pentagram are nowhere to be found. This is a more carefully constructed and harmonically-grounded wall of sleep. Ample Fire Within revels the heaving swells of Melvins and ASVA and Boris, sure, but to this reviewer’s ears, there is just as much of the innerspace explorations of Charalambides and the improv spazz-blues of Mecca Normal. Gentry’s guttural howl and the primal guitar chimes and tones place this album more in the orbit of eternal blues sadness.

“The Obelisk of Kolob” is a churning ebb and flow of fuzzgrind, which when combined with subtle horn reports toward the end, turn the song into an almost triumphant herald’s cry. “Ample Fire Within” begins with a bent and warped guitar figure before bursting into flames (I swear the amplifier crackle sounds like fire) of treated electronic hum and alternately evil waves of hate and cradles of shimmering guitar ambience dolphin songs. “Divine” is a sad and wonderful blues lament crawling up from some nameless swamp, a honey-thick web of reverbed strums over a cracked, hoarse voice intoning some long-forgotten psalm. “V.O.G.” is like a cross between a railyard workers’ blues — check out the clank and thud of the drums like hammerfalls — and the Melvins at their best slither. The guitars are a feverish, humid crackle, the vocals are intriguingly calm and matter-of-fact, and Kim Thayil appears out of nowhere to add some strangulated cat soloing. “Dark Matter” builds slowly, with an organ drone flickering like an oil lamp and echoing, spare guitar lines and tonal hum leaking all over the place, the distant underwater vocals give it an Eastern flair, before drums stutter in and more keyboards stack up and the guitar builds to monolithic uni-chord riff goodness like granite walls. A truly pained roar shreds speakers ten minutes in, while the lead guitar sounds like tiny mosquitoes courting over this distorted trudge. This is carefully orchestrated, multilayer stuff — simple and really complicated at the same time. Greatness.

Southern Lord: www.southernlord.com

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