Ashes To Ashes - Cardinal VII

Year of Release: 2002
Label: DVS Records
Catalog Number: DVS006
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:54:00

I had heard "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" on Seismic Radio months before Ashes To Ashes' Cardinal VII had been released (and it was via that station that I'd heard Shapes Of Spirit, the band's 1999 debut). In comparison to the rest of the material on the album, it is quite different, and yet it fits right in. From interviews the band has done, which are included on their website, the album is a concept album in that the songs relate to the 7 deadly sins. Cardinal in this case would mean principal, as in most important, rather than referring to one of the Pope's Cardinals by a numeric designation. Cardinal, the term, also refers to numbers, any number, and this number is 7 (leaving out that cardinal is also species of bird). But also, "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi," the centerpiece of the album, is track 7, which suggests (my supposition) that the band feel this is the cardinal, or principal, track of the album. At 13-plus minutes, "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" (roughly Thus Passes The Glory Of The World) is certainly the longest. Let us also not forget the current troubles with priests, archbishops and cardinals and their sins...

The piece itself is a gloomy, doom-laden track that moves at a lethargic pace. It opens with beautifully atmospheric swirly keyboard washes and sparse piano-like tinkling. Michael Stenberg then comes in and installs a distorted, guitar wall. Unlike elsewhere on the album (for the most part), vocalist Kenneth Brastad sings in a very warm, smooth, clean voice, which is very pleasant to listen to. Oddly, there were times when I thought of Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumours" -- the same kind of gloom and darkness, though not because the word "blasphemy" appears in the lyrics here (something I noticed only after making the DM comment). I also thought of Porcupine Tree's "Stop Swimming." At about three-quarters of the way in (around the nine-minute mark), the whole tenor of the track changes as we get a short, classical interlude (strings of various hues - some plucked -- and piano) before thundering drums break the malaise, backed by strings of darker hues (cello, for example). These are replaced by Stenberg on guitar, who plays against some terrific, booming percussion. And then, were back to the floaty, slow-motion pace of before... maybe a bit too gloomy, but it is a beautiful track... fans of darkwave will like this track especially. But, it is one that requires patience.

The album opens with the assaultive "New World Obscure," which, with its speed metal ferocity and vocalist Kenneth Brastad's rough, deep vocals sounds like a pumped up Metallica with a darker edge. Add into that the Gregorian-like chorus as backing vocals, and you have something that is at once familiar and unique. DVS Records describe Ashes To Ashes as "'Gregorian' metal from Norway" (from a comment by Stenberg). That suggests a great many things, no less that given their geographic location, the music is going to be dark and gloomy if not in execution certainly in subject matter. Well, those expectations are valid. For example, the track entitled "Embraced In Black." Brastad has a voice that can be that rough, demonic, dark rumble but also, when in clean voice, very warm, and very pleasant to listen to. Though, truth be told, I like his dark side, too, as he doesn't let it get into "cookie monster" territory but for one spot, where it seems very right to do, on "Truth On Scaffold." There are classical elements in Ashes To Ashes' music as well, which, in some ways, add a unique character to their music, though classical elements are certainly no stranger to the prog genre, and, in fact, were prog of the whole prog thing from the very beginning. Middle Eastern motifs are brought into "Truth..." towards the end, adding yet another colour to their palette. "Iben" is a minute long piano interlude that is quite nice, which is picked up at the end of the album, to which strings are added. In fitting with the rest of the album, the feel is melancholy, reflective. The keyboardist isn't credited or mentioned in the promo materials or on the website, though the band has recruited a (new?) keyboardist Zilla (Hagalaz Runedance, Paradigma), and she'll be going on tour with them this fall.

"Dualism" has Stenberg's guitars all over it, that at first play some interesting figures, but then fall back into a rather dull, distorted march for a time; more like a run, actually. In between, keys play like dark strings... and an almost playful pattern emerges but then quickly subsides. It's something rather like something Djam Karet might do. In fact, I'll describe this as what would result if Djam Karet played metal, though they certainly can get heavy anyway. "Dualism" is an instrumental, and it does show some interplay, but mainly between bassist Björn Luna and drummer Ronny Kaasa. Or maybe it's Cato Bekkevold. See, when the band was recording this, they originally recruited Bekkevold to replace Kristian Johansen. Bekkevold played on half the tracks, and though the bio doesn't say why Bekkevold didn't record the rest, I gather its because he was leaving Red Harvest to join Sirius. In any case, Kaasa was brought in and recorded the other half. So, who's playing on what? I haven't determined that and the bio doesn't say (nor has it yet come up in an interview).

Coming out of "Sic Transit..." is "Ravenous Unleashed" another instrumental and one that kicks everything back into high gear, though it is rather generic -- actually, it's rather a lot like Vanden Plas, when you add in the tinkly keyboards. Metallica returns a bit with "Beyond Closed Eyes" where the drums and percussion are concerned, the overall rhythm is a little more on the pop side of metal. Take out the vocals and some of the metal touches (Stenberg's chugging guitar) and it could be A-ha's "Take On Me" (who are also, incidentally, Norwegian).

Overall, I'm quite impressed with this album. It will take a few more listens, over the coming months, years, to decide if the excitement is due to the novelty of "Gregorian metal" or if the album stands on it's own in whole. My gut feeling is that it is the latter, that I'll still be digging this album for a long time to come. I must say that the title track, "Cardinal VII" is by far my favourite, taking all of their elements and wrapping it up in a nice, neat, compact package (yeh, compact at 8 minutes) ...quite beautiful and stunning. The album itself is highly recommended, and I think Ashes To Ashes is a band to watch.

Many of you can watch the band at Progpower Europe 2002

New World Obscure (3:54) / Embraced In Black (5:38) / Among Mortals (3:48) / Truth On Scaffold (6:56) / Iben (1:00) / Dualism (6:16) / Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (13:32) / Ravenous Unleashed (2:20) / Behind Closed Eyes (4:52) / Cardinal VII (8:27) / Iben II (1:58)

Michael Stenberg - guitars
Björn Luna - bass
Ronny Kaasa - drums
Kenneth Brastad - vocals

Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea (demo, oop) (1993)
Temples Of Ice (demo, oop) (1995)
Shapes Of Spirit (1999)
Cardinal VII (2002)

Genre: Dark-Doom Metal

Origin NO

Added: August 25th 2002
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 868
Language: english


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