Ails – The Unraveling (2018) REVIEW

In hindsight the sordid discography of Bay Area avant-dark metal/post-black metal quintet Ludicra was forward-thinking. Equally invested and escapist in their black metal fortitude, it was a project that served as induction for many future black metal fans and ushered in some small push towards new styles of the sub-genre. With the long break before ‘The Tenant’ and drummer Aesop Dekker investing in his position within Agalloch even more the inevitable split happened in 2011. From there Dekker and John Cobbett (Hammers of Misfortune) formed punkish avant-black Vhol almost immediately while Laurie Shanaman and Christy Cather took a few years to conceive Ails. Unsurprisingly, their debut full-length ‘The Unraveling’ is a revision of the style heard on Ludicra‘s final album ‘The Tenant’.

Ails‘ debut will undoubtedly please fans who have long felt the loss of Ludicra. As someone who never personally connected with any of their previous work Ails is a new experience that came with no concrete expectations. From the first listen I saw the intended pattern of descent portrayed, the album quite literally ‘unravels’ into an increasing state of disarray and anger. This causes a great deal of conflict as a listener who appreciates artistic theme but seeks musical (lets say structural and melodic) value just slightly above concept. My initial reaction was “Wow, that got really unlistenable as it ended.” Quickly realizing that it was meant to ‘unravel’ I felt myself quickly alienated from it’s second half and more or less unwilling to go along for another ride. With some time apart, and some small reunion, I’ve resolved my thoughts on ‘The Unraveling’ after two months.

It’s just alright, man. Cather‘s place in first chair for Ails‘ guitar work shows a songwriter with still ‘bare’ influences that resemble dark metal and melodic black metal heavyweights around half of the time. This actually leads to some of the best moments of the album with “Dead Metaphors” and “Mare Weighs Down” largely carrying the album outside of the first track’s strong vocal arrangements. With so much of Ludicra‘s sound invoked through the two distinct vocalists it is hard to see Ails as the upstarts they are rather than a renaming of their past project. So, as a debut this is an average black metal release that loses steam and coherence by the time it ends. As a continuation of Ludicra‘s sound ‘The Unraveling’ is generally sub-par outside of a few songs that work well enough. All of this keeping in mind I’m no great fan of their past work to begin with.

If “The Echoes Waned” didn’t set a higher standard that the rest of the album couldn’t quite meet it’d likely all have been a bust for my taste. Even now, picking the album up two months later I’ve found myself shutting off the record repeatedly when certain songs begin, rearranging the tracklist (why wasn’t “Any Spark of Life” Track 2?) and generally struggling to find any desire to hear it’s last couple songs again. I do see greater potential for this project and think they’ll eventually reach for what bands like Ion, Yellow Eyes or even Castevet were/are doing but ‘The Unraveling’ isn’t quite there yet in terms of style or execution.


Artist Ails
Type Album
Released April 20, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on The Flenser’s Bandcamp! Follow Ails on Facebook
Black Metal,
Progressive Metal

Shaking above the grave. 2.85/5.0

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