Review Summary: The walls begin to close in.
Dissonance overload is king in the metal world nowadays. Explaining such a phenomenon could be as simple as citing some sketchy French dudes or pointing out New Zealand on a map, but the surging popularity of dissodeath in all its forms seems far more fundamental to reality than it is a game of mimicry. What an artist can create is as much a portrait of themselves as it is a snapshot of the world, whether it be their personal sphere or extrinsic observations of society. Imperial Triumphant can smash together unorthodox riffs, discordant chords, frantic jazz outbursts, and dizzying drumming, then hand it over to their audience while claiming the cities are f*cking burning under profound neglect. A brief stroll to a given downtown poor district demonstrates that perhaps there’s a reason to that madness; how else to rationalize the cracked roads, dilapidated apartments, the homeless wandering streets populated by CLOSED signs? To weaponize dissonance in that regard means to develop this sense of confusion, this sense of “things are not quite right.” Why Ashenpire exist in this context—their politically-motivated critiques against the failures of capitalism, their eccentric, avant-garde songwriting approach—is far from a mystery. It’s a natural push of dissonant metal further into the realms of scathing social commentary, constructing an incredibly layered, complex record that sews doubt and rage in equal measure. The proceedings of Hostile Architecture
are a potent reflection of the globe’s darkest corners, and all of it is staged in a realm of unyielding delirium.
In the same way that the aforementioned New York collective bring many supplementary elements to the party, Ashenspire have plenty of extra contributions, including two band members that handle saxophone and violin responsibilities. The desolate landscape arranged in Hostile Architecture
accommodates for each seamlessly; they’ve got violent potential to spare and compelling contrasts to offer. This aids the atmosphere greatly, such as when the sax aggressively pursues the runaway riffing of “Béton Brut,” its distinctive wailing imbuing the tune with an uncanny ambiance. When it merges with the violin in harmony at the song’s conclusion, the resulting melody is a beautiful clash versus the gloomier textures the band concocts. The two find themselves entangled in the ensuing “Plattenbau Persephone Praxis,” evading the onslaught of a crushing bass and heading into a jazzy instrumental break. As the violin hangs above the arrangement, its ominous notes sounding like the approach of a horror villain, the sax inserts its own uncanny melody, adding a brilliant sense of impending drama that lends additional strength to the bursting tremolo. The calm is suddenly torn to pieces and descends back to the madness it crawled from. Whether acting in a supporting capacity or the central melody—“Apathy as Arsenic…” owes its groundwork to another delicious sax intro—the sax and violin can enter without once appearing a gimmick; Ashenspire have deliberately built the two into their structuring, placing them on an even level in the production where they enhance rather than overtake tracks.
In cooperation with the hopeless themes of the record, the group has a knack for crafting excellent climaxes, allowing cathartic exclamations or emotive condemnations to echo in the decaying city streets. Opening number “The Law of Asbestos” is an apt illustration; it slinks out of murky noir crevices at the behest of the saxophone, acoustics gradually giving way to jagged guitars and melancholic strings. The song winds through harrowing black metal passages while the intensity threatens to hit a fever pitch, with the sudden roar of violent chords emerging without anticipation, and manic vocals accompanying their rise. It creates a mesmerizing flow, ultimately culminating in a complete assault: despairing violin notes desperately attempt to claw above a mounting cacophony, the droning bass and guitar drowning out any light in their oppressive dissonance, desperate shouts spelling out all grievances as if living on borrowed time. Further down the line comes the equally potent ascension of “Tragic Heroin,” its short duration wasting no time as it rushes through a veritable hellscape of dissonant riffing, groovy bass licks, and an urgent violin melody. An instance of calm permits the percussion to ramp up the tension, the pressure bubbling to the surface until launching forward in a flurry of blast beats and anguished screams. Be it brief escapades of brutality or the elongated, furious finale of “Cable Street Again,” the Glasgow crew can be relied upon to deliver an enthralling ending to a track.
Punctuating many of Ashenspire’s work is their unique employment of harsh vocals. Whether or not lyrics matter to metal is a debate long shrugged off, but the delivery and implementation of them in Hostile Architecture
breathes life into the perspectives the group weaves. This is an album born of societal disarray, its gaze directed permanently at past errors and current missteps committed by governments the world over. It is a damning evaluation and call to arms in the manner of a hardcore album as opposed to a black metal one, with the venomous quality of the vocals supplying special power to the relentless dissonance that colors the bleak, decrepit architecture that contains the disenfranchised. There’s genuine fury in the strained lines that cap off “The Law of Asbestos,” casting vitriol out in the void:
Always three months to the gutter / Never three months to the top.
Another set of f*cking homeless spikes / outside another empty shop.
Always three months to the gutter / Never three months to ascent.
This is not a house of amateurs / This is done with full intent.
The concept that gives Hostile Architecture
its name is derived from modern architecture that, while designed with what can occasionally be construed as a beneficial purpose, inevitably exists to minimize costs and constrain the agency of those inside. It’s a phenomenon that Ashenspire insist is no accident; those wielding influence enact the plan knowing full well of its consequences. This same mindset prompts the aforementioned blistering finale to “Tragic Heroin,” with the closing seconds featuring an anthemic expression of revolution:
Fueled with your labour.
Built with your bones.
There are no great men.
Only the great many.
The dissonance that reigns over the record’s nine tracks is a consistent veil that masks everything behind it in a slight haze of static. When the U.K. collective opt to cut through that veil, confronting the listener directly with the revulsions offered by contemporary life, it’s a chilling reality check. There’s no shortage of quotable lyrics in a given tune, and the sincerity of their emotional conveyance grants considerable depth to Hostile Architecture
, elevating its sidea from the background to something that continuously stares down its audience. It’s what ultimately grounds the experimental songwriting Ashenspire conduct; the eerie discord spun by angular guitars, jazz motifs and theatrical string sections are buoyed by a common purpose spun by the lyrical narratives. This is a grim adventure through the bleak truth of metropolitan deterioration, and it’s an amazing, albeit harrowing, journey to embark upon.
If this is against the grain, then the blight really has set in.
The furrowing of brows and the festering of blame / Misshapen and bent
It’s not the f*cking corner shop that drives up your rent.
They salted the soil! Buried up to your neck in the debts of your station.
But this is where it ends. There’s no middle road.
And I tell you;
Get down off the fence
before the barbed wire goes up.