Album Title: Efference
Label: Independent Release
Date Of Release: 7 April 2017
As little as a week ago, I had never heard of the band Asira. I did not know that they were a new band. I didn’t know that they hailed from Reading on these very shores in the UK. I didn’t know that they were a quintet comprised of vocalist Jack Reynolds, guitarists Martin Williams and Ethan Bishop, bassist Chris Kendell and drummer Sam Greenland. I didn’t know that on 7th April they were to release their debut full-length album entitled ‘Efference’. And, most crucially of all, I didn’t know that the music on this debut album would be so beautiful.
I know all of these things now and my life is much the richer for it.
The musical output of Asira is undeniably quite complex. It is complex in the fact that it draws upon a number of styles and influences across the eight tracks that comprise ‘Efference’. In essence, it is a thorough and fascinating multi-layered and multi-faceted exploration of the subgenre loosely termed as ‘blackgaze’, where savagery and uncompromising black metal sounds are blended with the subtle and evocative beauty of ambient and shoegaze music.
And yet, the skill of Asira has meant that the final product sounds so effortless and so simple. The warm ambient and atmospheric sections sooth and embrace you, whilst the melodies catch your ear almost immediately. And then, even when these passages are replaced by the naked aggression of cold and icy black metal, sometime abruptly, the juxtaposition doesn’t feel forced or clunky in any way. The compositions are ambitious and grand in scope, but they also feel homogenous and eloquent.
I have no qualms in admitting that I am a huge fan of this kind of music and Asira are yet another strong and exciting example of why this is. I regard the likes of Alcest and Les Discrets as the genre leaders and whilst the differences between them are marked, I have no problems in referencing all three in the same breath. I am much less of a fan of Opeth and Steven Wilson and yet even when there are nods in these directions, as evidenced within the short piece entitled ‘Of Dawn’, I’m not left disappointed or underwhelmed. Yes, ‘Efference’ is that good.
The opening to the album, ‘Sanguine’ contains some of the most moving sounds this side of modern-day Anathema. It begins with a very simple ambient melody before exploding in a blaze of euphoric warmth and beauty. The sombre tinkling of the ivories as the all-too-brief composition closes is simply gorgeous. It is already at this point that I am hooked and realise that I’m almost certainly about to listen to something special.
And then, with no warning, in comes ‘Crucible Of Light’ with full-on black metal malevolence and spite. Blast beats and fast-picked riffing bombard the senses from the outset but even at this point, melody and sophistication is never far away. In come the blackened screams to add to the intensity but just as quickly, they are replaced by a soothing clean croon and all of a sudden the uncompromising black metal assault is replaced by something more ethereal and majestic, full of melody and atmosphere. A groovy mid-section takes over with a vaguely progressive feel to it before the track reverts back to black metal brutality and then ends with a reprise of the central melody to glorious effect.
There is a much calmer, more introspective opening to the title track , as if to allow the listener to take stock of what went before. The melodies are once again poignant and arresting, capturing my full attention. The blend of clean guitars, synths and almost angelic vocals is inspired. The pace is then lifted although clean, jangling guitars remain at the heart of the bittersweet-sounding composition. After another section of decadent ambience, I’m pulled from my reverie by a fabulous lead guitar solo, whilst it is only the final minute or so that touches on anything remotely connected to extreme metal.
The nods to Opeth are again evident within the opening stages to ‘This Hollow Affliction’ but the show-stopper for me is the expressive and soulful lead guitar work that enters the fray wonderfully. It is one of the longest tracks on ‘Efference’ but its double-figure length is used to good effect, offering plenty of variety along the way. It’s one of the worst clichés in metal journalism but it really does take the listener on a journey through emotional highs and lows. What jumps out at me is the much more pronounced Riverside –esque lead guitar work that rears its head at various points as well as the sublime serenity and remarkable depth of the piece at around the 7:30 mark. It is soon replaced by bludgeoning black metal but the melody and the angelic vocals remain as a thread to the very end.
‘Phosphorous’ delivers more of a punchy and harsh battery of classic symphonic black metal underpinned by a softer shoegaze element to smooth the rough edges, whereas ‘Whispers Of The Moon’, as its name suggests, it a completely different beast, sprawling across seven minutes in languid fashion, offering more melodic bliss within the context of an ambient-meets-progressive rock framework. It slowly builds to a resounding finale that is full of energy, vitality and beauty.
In what feels like the blink of an eye, ‘The Mortal Tide’ arrives to see ‘Efference’ out and, in keeping with the rest of the album, it does so in style. In fact, if anything, there’s more of a prog metal feel to the overall composition as well as the guitars on this track. But fear not as this is never at the expense of the ubiquitous atmospheres, ambience and more extreme elements that Asira execute so well. The vocal melodies that enter around the half-way mark are stunning, only adding to the impact of another brilliantly devised and executed composition.
On the basis of ‘Efference’, I can only predict big things for Asira. If their debut album can be so ambitious, cohesive and assured, what on earth will their second, third and fourth albums sound like. We can only wait and see. However, for now, content yourself with the fact that there’s a new band in existence that has so much potential and simply immerse yourself in ‘Efference’. As blackgaze goes, this is one of the best I’ve heard in a long, long time.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day