Formed somewhere between the noxious, hellish realities of living in Los Angeles and the respite of an acoustic guitar Chrome Ghost germinated in the mind of musician Jake Kilgore who’d soon found himself writing sketches of a few songs before eventually moving back to the Sacramento area and putting together a band with drummer Jake Hurst circa summer 2015. They worked on it, probably weren’t sure what it was yet even when it was done, but with some help from prolific engineer Patrick Hills their debut LP (‘Choir of the Low Spirits‘, 2016) was a rad enough, underrated kind of gig with a lot of “peak” grunge influenced vocals, a post-metal record that was one shade Floor and another Alice in Chains as they’d experimented with stoney sonic extremes, feelin’ around in the dark for stable ratio of amplifier worship and soul dumping depress-a-long. It was a charming, appropriately green debut with an emphasis on vocal harmonies, big huge sad buzz, and a twinge of folkish southern rock deep in their pockets. They’d put out a couple EPs, found a bassist who has stuck since, and eventually released one of the absolute best records of 2019, their second full-length album ‘The Diving Bell‘, a late in year release that’d landed at #39 on my Top 50 of 2019 list. It is the main reason I’m hyped up for this follow-up, ‘House of Falling Ash‘, which appears to be the result of acknowledging the breakthroughs foundered on that second album, tapping into the insight gained from live performances, and testing the limits of their dirges with a bit of fresh pain of mind in hand.
I know, man, I wrote the “post-metal” word in reference to that first record and you’re still spitting at your phone and howling in protest but, what this band does is best described as deconstructed atmospheric sludge metal, post-modernist form of inherently melodic doom metal which can be boiled down to a loud-quiet-loud dynamic in an extreme format yet always with an accessible voice. This means 10-12 minute songs, spacious production values, sad-angelic vocal harmonies, throat clutching roars, gigantic and/or delicate guitar tones, with all of it demanding plenty of patience (or ~20mg THC) on the part of the listener. If you’re big on Pallbearer, Yob, Elder and are prone to collapse under the weight of existential dread at any given opportunity you’ll generally get what these folks are all about up even if the extended length and slow-reveal of the songs will feel like a mountain to climb up front.
Four main songs and two short interludes split between roughly ~50 minutes means you’re in for a ride with very few pee breaks here, a session which eventually reveals a notable leap into the aether in terms of the trio’s overall dynamic. Chrome Ghost‘ve chosen to expand rather than compress the impact of ‘The Diving Bell‘, placing considerable emphasis on Kilgore‘s pristine vocals and their sombre, but not completely wilting timbre. Rather than bark and growl through the apex of every hill met, we most often get bigger clean-sung choruses as reward for sticking around and taking a walk with the band — a hike to a worthy view in most every case. It’ll be difficult to sum or perceive any progression in mood over the course of the full listen, or to detail the effect of any given song in less-than complex statement as we rarely get one straight-shooting or contained ‘rock’ statement from the band. Otherwise, sure, the heavier parts are heavier and the softer parts are softer, probably even more intricate when considering the more active edge of the guitar/bass interplay when it crops up.
You’ll get the deconstructed, deinterlaced atmospheric sludge idea once your ears are elbow deep into “Rose in Bloom”, though the song has more in common with Elder‘s ‘Omens‘ than Neurosis‘ ‘The Eye of Every Storm‘ as we slow-walk through about five or six different movements which are sewn together with floaty transitional movement. Upon first listen this’d been a bit of a “So, what?” moment on my part, not entirely sure if I’d missed a chorus or if I’d just gotten a bit lost in the desert wandering mindset of the 14+ minute opener. As is the case with each of the songs on this record it greatly benefits from a closer listen left on repeat, which should translate to the reader as long-term value for those who get the “vibe” quick and hope to experience the nuance naturally over time. It certainly could’ve been an eight minute song if clipped of a few droning sections but I understand the weight of the piece a bit better after sitting with it. “The Furnace” is a bit easier to pick up on, striking into crumbling distorted chords and Kilgore‘s haunting harmonization outright. This eventually turns to tandem shout and rasp tumult, big chords over tribal drumming and, again, we’re in that space somewhere between the transformation of atmosludge ’til post-metal, minus the post-hardcore side of things and theirs is a brilliant, still modern feeling interpretation. It ends up serving a necessary moment of unsteadiness and aggression on an album which takes its time on all fronts, avoiding the strong contrast of brutality versus wilted spiritus with gradual and sensical climbing and/or descent between realms.
‘House of Falling Ash‘ and I hit a bit of a rough patch with “Where Black Dogs Dream“, wherein a strong enough kick-off turns to balladry and for whatever reason my mind checks out or finds something else to do each time it plays. The guest vocal might’ve been more profound, potentially adding some additional emotive texture to the song, if it’d been prominent and tasked with a more vulnerable point in the song, as is it feels a bit tacked on. Since it is such a huge chunk of the album it did end up heavily weighing on my overall enjoyment of the full listen but the title track which follows begins to make up for it. “House of Falling Ash” arguably best features the major strengths Chrome Ghost have gathered along their overall trip, another extended piece which balances heavier-edged bouts and supremely chill intermission with rousing performances ’til it sort of collapses nearby the end, almost a call-back to one of the songs on the first album. Finishing the album with a few big doom riffs helps to smooth out the endpoint but I’d ultimately walked away from my tenth or so spin of this album feeling like it’d spent so much time in limbo, that I’d somehow missed the emotional impact of it along the way. Without that connection it’d all haunted and entertained but only truly struck me down a couple of times per hour, and perhaps that is my fault for wanting to be a bit more destroyed by it. Still, a fine record and an appreciable stretching of their impressive heaviest/softest dynamism. A moderately high recommendation.
|TITLE:||House of Falling Ash|
|LABEL(S):||Seeing Red Records|
|RELEASE DATE:||October 28th, 2022|
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