ABLAZE MY SORROW – Among Ashes and Monoliths (2021)REVIEW

Though they are occasionally framed as an also-ran by more cynical pseudo-historian thought, it can be stated without any personal bravery implied that Falkenberg, Sweden borne melodic death metal band Ablaze My Sorrow were an important band in the complete characterization of Swedish melodic death metal. And no, not only because they ended up being an important addition to the infamous No Fashion Records discography in the mid-to-late 90’s. Originally a quartet of young men who’d clearly been inspired by the ambitious work of early Katatonia and perhaps At the Gates, the level of Romantic era sophistication was immediate as they’d form in 1993 and release their hidden gem of a first demo tape (‘For Bereavement We Cried‘, 1994) soon after. This was mid-paced emotionally driven death metal with long solo piano dirges for intros and slow-burning riffs, built upon bass driven passages that’d still impress today. It is some small wonder that a demo compilation hasn’t been put together for their early works as they remain vital artifacts for the greater sphere of ‘melodeath’ influence. The second demo (‘Ablaze My Sorrow‘, 1995) arrived just under a year later and there we see the band catering their taste closer to the label they’d soon join but, their musical sensibilities were still a touch more “gothic” than the norm with a sound yet more in line with early Eucharist and A Canorous Quartet (pre-Quintet) as speed and focus on neatly Wagnerian tremolo’d expression were adapted to their intent. Though they were likely still kids, along with most of their peers, at the time even the most archaic cuts of Ablaze My Sorrow‘s formative years were largely immaculate. These high standards of musicianship have yet persisted for five full-lengths since, including this second full-length, ‘Among Ashes and Monoliths‘, since officially reforming in 2013. Though the present day formation of the band endures with the same standard their output isn’t cynically set upon us for the sake of pure nostalgia for 1995, instead seemingly for the sake of continuing a thread of yet intricate gothic spiritus and “romantic” dark metal style they’d set aside roughly a decade ago in favor of aggression.

As much as I am still in love with the Mark I version of Ablaze My Sorrow circa 1993-1997, which featured Martin Qvist on guitar/vocals, I realize that history remembers their first album (‘If Emotions Still Burn‘, 1996) and formative years as quite slick but average among the burgeoning flock. A few energizing opening pieces might win fealty with passersby but you’ll only find the most die-hard melodic death metal fans truly worship that album as much as say, ‘Silence of the World Beyond’ or ‘Lost in the Beauty You Slay’ despite the quality being up to snuff in every regard. These are all fantastic records to discover if your exploration of bands like Skeletonwitch and Aeolian have you wondering exactly where the heart of this sleek and very catchy artform persists. So, I suppose it is important to state upfront that your sustained interest in ‘Among Ashes and Monoliths’ might heavily depend upon your fealty to classic melodic death metal origin and expansion spanning the whole of the 1990’s as they’ve adhered to this very staunch semi-progressive level of instrumentation, “romancing the dark” poetics, and relatively straight forward heavy rock song structures that concern themselves first and foremost with the development of melody. For existing fans who already know the progression of this band’s style I apologize for any tedium in getting there but clearly the band had founded a more aggressive approach with an entirely different “heavy metal” melodic voicing on their second record (‘The Plague‘, 1997) this era of the band is typically handed off as either average or verging on the melodeath/thrash style that would develop in the late 90’s. I’ve never found this to be true, in fact some of the best riffs this band have ever written dwell in the innards of this record and you’ll especially agree if you’re a fan of early Amon Amarth as this triumphant ‘Unbound’-esque thrashing spirit flings from each piece. It is the sort of record that separates the truly invested melodic death metal fan from folks who’re okay with just having an idea of what it is via the popular shit.

Finally this takes us to the end of our veering down memory lane with ‘Anger, Hate and Fury‘ (2002) where it was clear that if this band were going to survive, and they sort of did for a few more years, it was vital that they write catchier pieces in the vein of In Flames. To be fair they were quite good at this and this album certainly outlived ‘Clayman’ on my shelves! But alas it was largely generic for its time and the ever-shifting popular extreme music market had left this style behind as soon as garbage like ‘Reroute to Remain’ found its broader teenaged market beyond the ‘underground’. Cynical on my part but this year was a nonetheless a death knell for the sub-genre in most cases. Why the trot through the first three albums? Well, solely to frame the basis for any excitement folks have towards this band when a new record is announced and the buzz around ‘Among Ashes and Monoliths’ is deserved after mining through their most classic works. Vaulting into the not-so-distant past, ‘Black‘ (2016) brought back the general motions of Ablaze My Sorrow with this most classic scope of discography in mind but it was kind of a brutally loud almost metalcorish, moshable crunched-out record despite plenty of classic melodeath riffs being heavily featured. It was a stretch for my taste due to the ambitious range of vocalist Kristian Lönnsjö yet a valid continuation of auld elemental ideals just, uh, very groovy alt-metal in feeling. ‘Among Ashes and Monoliths’ has perhaps better taken the temperature of the modern melodic death metal landscape where bands like Insomnium have outlasted so many for the sake of a slightly more reasonable path forward via “epic” and sprawling atmospheric arrangements that retain the tropes of classic melodeath. Opener “My Sorrow” seems to communicate this immediately, yarning into a sentimental chorus that is familiar yet certainly not as aggressive as the teenaged Ablaze My Sorrow were at their catchiest.

As we push on towards the title track Jonas Udd (ex-The Incarnation) ensures that we’ve noticed him via snarling personae that twists within this song as it flits from sentiment to anxietous strain and caged furor. It may just fly by on initial listens but after I’d sat with this album a bit more the details that enable this ease are inspired if not downplayed. Though we’ve lost the compressed and hyper-textural flavor of the early No Fashion-era of melodic black/death metal and (the likely much more expensive these days) Kristian Wåhlin painted touch of ‘If Emotions Still Burn’ it shouldn’t be any stretch of the mind to recognize Ablaze My Sorrow by ear when approaching this record; A ride through “Grit” should reinforce this in the plainest of terms. Yet it will be “Her Cold Embrace” that feels like something new, breaching the realm of dark metal with an arrangement and dual vocal that feels rooted in the gothy early 2000’s beauty and the beast sort of bands you’d find on droves on Century Media around that time. It was likely placed here to break up the flow of the first half so that it might not drone on but it subverts the “tunnel vision” I tend to seek out in classic forms of this sub-genre. “The Cavernous Deep” pulls me right back out of it with some cleaner, anthemic movements that precede the jaunty The Crown rollin’ melodeath/thrash piece “Nonexistence”. No doubt these are challenging moments for my own taste but perhaps not as immediately unappealing as much of ‘Black’ was. At twelve songs and nearly fifty minutes it does feel like there is a prime Ablaze My Sorrow record within the mist but it’d mean cutting around three pieces to shape things into one brick of gloriously repeatable melodic death metal with clear ties to the distant origins of the well loved sub-genre.

In casual terms I’d say they’re tending to fuck around with hooks few nostalgic fans will show up for and this bloats the full listen a bit. Beyond that small gripe ‘Among Ashes and Monoliths’ is a sharp melodic death metal album from (again) a band that have always held themselves to a professional standard and should no longer be set aside as an side note or also-ran discussion. With this in mind make sure you give those first two albums (and demos) the serious attention the deserve as it might best precede the contextualization of this fifth record. A moderate recommendation, higher for the devout melodeath enthusiast.

Moderate recommendation. (69/100)

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Among Ashes and Monoliths
LABEL(S):Black Lion Records
RELEASE DATE:February 12th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Melodic Death Metal

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