What You Don't Know Is Frontier
posted on 10/2008 By:
Bringing with them an impressive pedigree, including ties to Faith No More/Mr. Bungle, Goatsnake, Burning Witch, and drone masters Sunn 0))) and Earth, Asva makes use of many of the same ideals utilized by those last two bands. Asva is alternately crawling through gut-wrenching agonizing slothliness a la Sunn and drifting through a plodding cinematic beauty like the more (ahem) progressive work of recent Earth. In combining the downtuned and the dreamy, Asva have created a work of melancholic scope that stands tall in the ranks of droning goodness, although it does drag a bit at times. As one would likely imagine from the comparisons a few lines back, Asva utilizes crashing, plodding power chords, sparse drumming and distant vocals alongside sections of feedback-laden squeals, the occasional organ and keyboard work, and some delay-heavy clean guitars. It’s that latter element that adds the atmospheric element that makes this more than just tuned-down and slowed-down soul-crushing heaviness and gives What You Don’t Know a slightly more uplifting feel that’s belied by the squall of the opening track.
Even with their roots in the style’s foremost acts, I still found myself drifting away during portions of this. In the opening moments of What You Don’t Know, Asva falls prey to the style’s innate lack of dynamics, and in those same moments, I get a little sleepy. Example: the title track, which is good but doesn’t do much to separate the band from Sunn-worship. Although I enjoy that much-parentheticaled band’s bowel-destroying lows, What You Don’t Know’s best moments are…well…bigger than just the usual ol’ “one chord for three painful minutes” thing… Following it with the static structure-less “Christopher Columbus” was almost too much for my attention span, although thankfully that second track finally kicks in some eleven minutes later with some ominous guitar overdubs.
Even with two lesser tracks up front, portions of What You Don’t Know work brilliantly, especially when Asva steps away from pure sluggish doom. The Jesu-meets-Bjork-on-lithium “A Game In Hell, Hard Work In Heaven” managed to reclaim my waning interest with some sleepy-but-heavy melodic guitar lines, church organ and female vocalization, and from there out, I was hooked. To these ears, Asva flies higher and farther in those Earth-ier sections, and even farther in moments like the end of “A Game In Hell,” where the drums kick in with an actual beat and the whole thing glides along at a nice clip with the guitars chiming away on top. (It’s positively rocking by drone standards, but of course, that moment lasts only a minute or so before it all devolves into one tone that shifts pitch and volume ever slightly enough to grate immensely upon one’s nerves, which I’m more than certain is the desired effect.) It’s the album’s second half and it’s less traditional drone moments that keep me coming back, that mixture of the beautiful and expansive with the simplistic and crushing.
Despite getting off to a slow start (pardon the joke there), What You Don’t Know Is Frontier nonetheless holds its own and will likely sit alongside (but certainly beneath) Earth’s The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull in my short list of this year’s quality drone/doom records.
And yes, I know “slothliness” isn’t a word.
Neither is “parentheticaled.”
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