Review Summary: With their one LP, Warhorse managed to create a stellar stoner doom release, and one that any fan of heavy music should experience.
Let me start off by saying I was shocked that this didn't already have a review. As far as I'm concerned, As Heaven Turns to Ash is one of those pillars of stoner doom alongside Dopethrone and Dopesmoker that is absolutely essential listening for this subgenre. I happened to fire it up tonight and was curious what this site thought of it, but nothing. I'm just shocked. It's possible that this is because the album didn't get a wide release and is hard to find, even if you're a fan of less than legal avenues, so maybe not many people have had the opportunity.
Anyway, onto the review.
Sometimes you find an album because the band name, the album title, or the cover appeals. In this case, all three seem to leap out and scream "watch out, this is some heavy *** coming your way." On the band's old website, the phrase "bludgeoning doom" popped up, and that should be enough to let you know if you're at least on board with what's about to come. Still, that's a lot of grandiosity in the titles, plus one hell of a blurb. They'd better be able to live up to all that.
And holy ***, do they ever.
We start off with "Dusk", a simple 2 minute opener that's just a pair of guitar riffs on the left and right to get you swaying gently. It's a good opener, soothing in its own right, but then it slows down at the end, and the absolutely massive riff that is "Doom's Bride" lands. If you're not listening do AHTtA with capable speakers, then the sheer weight of it may be lost on you. These are fuzzed out guitars tuned as low as possible and given riffs that dance with the bass and drums at a pace that's not on the glacial scale of the aforementioned Sleep and Electric Wizard, but more like (to steal a phrase) elephants marching. From there, things only get more punishing.
What's best about AHTtA is that even within the narrow scope of "stoner doom" Warhorse manages to keep it varied. "Doom's Bride" speeds up near the end, "Black Acid Prophecy" contains some EyeHateGod-ish bluesy riffing, "Amber Vial" goes back to the tranquility of the opener with some drums thrown in, "Every Flower Dies..." lets the bass and drum kit shine before turning up the psychedelia, then it's back to the punishment of "Lysergic Communion", another guitar interlude, one final ten minute crusher in "Scrape", and then a piano interlude. The album does not contain two tracks in a row that sound the same, letting you experience an ebb and flow, first stomping along, quieting down, throwing in a little blues and back again.
I feel the need to say again, this is an album that requires a system that can handle bass. The bass guitar is heavily utilized throughout AHTtA, and listening to this album without those lower frequencies adequately handled will be to miss a hefty portion of the album.
There are, of course, flaws in AHTtA. The vocals are adequate, but do nothing particularly interesting. They lack Sleep's mighty bellow or EHG's vicious snarl, and are mixed fairly far to the rear, rendering them more of a background instrument to the main show that is the instruments themselves. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it helps keep the monotony down, but one can't help but wish they added more than that.
It's also debatable whether or not an album this heavy can be taken in all at once. Even with the soft interludes (of the albums nine tracks, two are the intro/outro and two more are the soft instrumentals), the five "real" songs present are stiflingly heavy to the point of being physically fatiguing. This is largely accomplished by having the instruments run mostly in parallel to one another. The bass plays roughly the same riff as the guitar and the drums stomp along with them. Warhorse isn't interested in fancy layering or switching up time signatures. It's stoner doom, what are you expecting?
It really is a shame that Warhorse only ever made this one LP, because it's amongst the best in the genre. It would have been nice to hear where they could have gone from here, but maybe that's the magic of it. They came together for a few EPs, unleashed one titanic album, and then rode off into the sunset. We're left wanting more, not holding up one album as a classic and lamenting that they just "got lucky" with that one.
If you're a fan of any stoner doom at all, you owe it to yourself to go hunt down As Heaven Turns to Ash. It's worth the effort and the few bucks it'll cost you. Just make sure to budget a new pair of pants.