CONVOCATION – Ashes Coalesce (2020)REVIEW

An all-blackened blanketing of ash covers sun-lashed, decimated Earth where only flickering red masses dance amongst the extinguished fire of men. The wisened and the callous had been building their spiral towers and rockets away from extinction for millennia to no avail, all burns today and those who did survive suffer existence without society nor shackles as purpose. In those piles of red still-burning embers a keen ear and a tightly fixed gaze reveals four requiem of souls ready cursed with animating husks long before the endtyme struck. They, captured and replicated as extant expression necessary to deal head-first with hopeless, heartless but necessary survival emit an unmistakably cathedralesque ambiance. Now those four are eight where a second opus to the final embers of life, ‘Ashes Coalesce‘, bears shape by way of Helsinki, Finland’s top tier funeral death/doom metal duo Convocation crafts their second storm-like manifestation of fire-crafted and remarkably loft-roaring pillars beyond the reach of Death’s animus.

Formed as a death metal side-project as early as 2016, Convocation would arrive upon an exceptionally atmospheric blend of funeral doom and death/doom metal by way of the shared vision between vocalist M.N. (Dark Buddha Rising, Waste of Space Orchestra) and main songwriter, musician L.L. (Desolate Shrine). As L.L.‘s primary band reached a stunning textural apex and comfortably high quality self-recording situation so did Convocation rise with their debut full-length (‘Scars Across‘, 2018), which I’d reviewed in early May of that same year. Consider that first album a traditional take on fusing death metal with funeral doom, opting for slow but incredibly heavy death/doom a la early Esoteric, Evoken‘s ‘Antithesis of Light‘, and with some strong shades of Finnish funeral doom across the board from Profetus to Skepticism. As an unrepentant lover of Finnish death metal the meandering, ominous tonality of that debut crossed with its standout heavy riffing made me a believer and a fan of Convocation from the very first listen. This record wasn’t as ‘easy’ and immediate a dig. If you are intent on getting the exact same record a second time in a row, you won’t. The thought I am most eager to communicate is that ‘Ashes Coalesce’ shouldn’t be approached as plain iteration but growth beyond their somewhat traditional first gasping life into a notable band in their greater sphere.

Though ‘Scars Across’ made some considerable use of keyboards in adornment, ‘Ashes Coalesce’ thrives upon even more intricate and subtle incorporation. Off the top of my head my favorite moment to start comes around the 5 minute mark within the expanse of opening track, “Martyrise”, where organs grind out a riff that beckons for the end to be swift yet the song itself drags the corpse slow, dissolving gently as its twelve minutes cease. The single and primary preview track “The Absence of Grief” showcases more than an expanding oeuvre and polished production value (thanks to Greg Chandler at Priory Studios); In fact the greatest point of growth arrives on their own terms, in no longer mildly emulating the verve of classic funeral doom and instead putting their own hand into its fire, arranging the coals to best suit their bruised and vitally death-infused sound. Think of Lycus, Un or Tyranny for a more direct comparison, though Convocation‘s vocalist M.N includes some blackened rasps, chorales, and general up-ticks in his expressive and ranged vocal style. If we are using “The Absence of Grief” as an example of ‘good’ vocals it bears mention that two guests feature prominent vocal performances on that particular song, the standout moments coming primarily from A.M. of Profetus. Lyrics seek to process and analyze death in a Jungian set of stages that begin with grief, amount to defiance, and rest upon a profound fear of the unknown.

“Misery Form” is where the chorales truly hit me, and this is where I’d begin to see visions based upon the luxuriate cover art (provided by L.L. himself) depicting a rapture from the tar of burnt and demolished Earth. I felt that wave of ethereal intervention briefly within that piece and soon began to see similarly grandiose vision by way of similar smudges, sooty fingerprints and marks on each of the three other songs. ‘Scars Across’ had felt like two different sides merged by style whereas ‘Ashes Coalesce’ persists as four grand movements writ with a mind for connections, recurring motif, and flashes of similar instrumentation used to emphasize the progression from drowning muck to resplendent cloud-breaking ascent (“Portal Closed”). The bigger picture is almost more satisfying than moment-to-moment analysis and this’d be a fair statement for most funeral doom adjacent bands but due to the influx of power-hungry death/doom metal bands this year, I’d come into this record wanting more death metal attack to start. After eventually meditating upon the artist’s intention versus expectation I heard ‘Ashes Coalesce’ with a fresh set of ears, seeing the brilliance of L.L. as a composer in action and contrasting this ruthless extension of the first album unto something far less typical. Besides, the first half of “Martyrise” is effective enough as death/doom metal triumphant.

I feel no dark cathartic swoon in my heart for Convocation‘s second record, instead I sit back in awe of its majestic furor, now matching the sophistication of Desolate Shrine‘s deepest evolution and surpassing the already very high standards of ‘Scars Across’. It could be slightly more memorable but at some point that goal’d just whip Convocation into a different bracket entirely. I hear progress, the experience reeks of greatness, and yet I believe there is some room to grow and that the duo’s best is still yet to come. Among the finest funeral death/doom metal records of the year thus far and most definitely a menacing black star amongst a crowded July sky, ‘Ashes Coalesce’ deserves a very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation.

Rating: 9 out of 10.
TITLE:‘Ashes Coalesce’
LABEL(S):Sentient Ruin Laboratories, Everlasting Spew Records
RELEASE DATE:July 3rd, 2020
GENRES:Funeral Doom Metal, Death/Doom Metal

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