Album Title: A Slow Ride Towards Death
Label: Melodic Passion Records
Date of Release: 23 April 2021
Bearing in mind my love of progressive music, be it rock or metal, and given the clientele involved, it is a little surprising perhaps that I had missed the name Astrakhan until now. ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’ is the third album of the band’s career, and it has a deliberately dark title as the album was apparently created at a time when the band weren’t sure about whether or not to continue. Add in the pandemic, and times were no doubt bleak for Astrakhan.
However, it would appear that those darker times were navigated, because the record has now seen the light of day and I’m not aware that Astrakhan have since disbanded. And I hope that this is indeed the case, because there is much to like about the music on ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’.
Firstly, there’s the vocals courtesy of Alexander Lycke, which are highly impressive. He sings with real passion, is blessed with a powerful voice, and has a great range allowing real versatility. His is a voice that could fit many different styles of music, not just rock and metal. However, he has chosen progressive rock as his vehicle of choice and it works well here.
Secondly, you get a genuine feeling of togetherness from the musicians involved in Astrakhan. This isn’t a flashy and ostentatious style of progressive music from Lyke alongside guitarist Johan Hallgren (Pain Of Salvation), bassist Per Schelander (Royal Hunt, House Of Shakira) and drummer Martin Larsson. Instead, it is nicely crafted, with a genuine depth of feeling, and plenty of atmosphere, much of which is surprisingly quite dark and melancholy in tone. There will be inevitable comparisons drawn between Astrakhan and more recent output from Opeth, but those comparisons are justified because both outfits spend as much time looking in the rear-view mirror as they do looking ahead to the future. ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’ incorporates plenty of 70s influences within their music, but not to the point of saturation. There are a few noticeable Gothic touches here and there too, not to mention a flavour of Pain Of Salvation circa the ‘Road Salt’ days. Ultimately though, there’s enough originality for Astrakhan to stand alone and offer the prog rock community something just a little different.
For all the positives however, I still struggle to warm to much of this release. In much the same way that I admire Opeth and I admired Pain Of Salvation for trying different things, I admire Astrakhan. But do I go nuts for ‘Road Salt 1’ or ‘Heritage’? No. And that’s how I feel about ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’. It is good, better than good in places, but I have a strong feeling that when this review is complete, I am unlikely to return to this album to any large extent.
When Astrakhan hit their straps, they do produce some great music. For example, the opening track, ‘Lonesome Cry’ is a catchy progressive track, with some deliciously rich bass playing dominating the quieter passages and a strong, memorable chorus that grows stronger over time. The drumming is both delicate and commanding in equal measure, whilst Hallgren’s guitar playing is varied, delivering everything from meaty power chords, to far more subtle, clean sounds. The addition of keys adds further depth and it’s an altogether great start to the album.
‘What You Resist Will Remain’ is another intriguing composition. It begins in bright and breezy classic prog fashion, before descending into darker and slightly heavier territory. But it changes tack quite frequently, with some really musical, emotional leads from Hallgren, as well as longer instrumental passages, not to mention moments of real minimalism where all but the bass or drums remain alongside Lycke’s passionate voice. The final stages are then dominated by layers of choral vocals that eventually close the song a capella style as all other instrumentation slowly drops away.
Then there’s the closing nine-minute-plus opus ‘M.E 2020’ which is easily the most flamboyant composition on the album, as well as being blessed with arguably the strongest melodies when they begin to infiltrate the song just after the three-minute mark. Combined with some of the most incredible and impassioned singing from Lycke, this is probably the most invested and moved I become whilst listening to this record. The ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’ vibes in the final sequence where Lycke quietly sings with honestly and fragility, followed by a heart-breaking lead from Hallgren, are nothing short of wonderful, and I find myself wishing more of the album hit this pinnacle.
And therein lies the problem for me. I want to feel more as I listen, I want to connect with the music more, I want to be compelled to listen again. I get that feeling with ‘M.E 2020’, but not enough within the remaining seven songs I’m afraid. Nevertheless, the fact remains that ‘A Slow Ride Towards Death’ is an extremely competent progressive rock record, full of nice ideas, great musicality, and authenticity. It isn’t the home run that I wanted it to be, but that doesn’t mean that others won’t take it to their hearts much more readily.
The Score Of Much Metal: 78%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: