Ethereal Shroud- “They Became The Falling Ash”

Ethereal Shroud

I’m going to need your attention for the next hour or so. Can you safely take a break from the world around you for the next sixty minutes? Good. Mute your phone, close your tabs. We’re about to dive headfirst into Ethereal Shroud‘s new album, They Became the Falling Ash. After I championed Absolution|Emptiness as one of 2014’s five best releases, I feel fortunate to share not just a single song from Ethereal Shroud’s new offering, but in fact a stream of this entire album for your enjoyment. This is a dark, somber journey that might take you to a pensive place, but as with the massive closing track from the debut album, “Lost in the Cold, Gone is the Light,” there is an ultimate sense of catharsis that lingers long after the last note fades away. Since we’ve got a lot to discuss, I’ll let you start listening to the album before we really dive into the body of this review.

For me, free time with music is precious. I rarely sit in silence when I am home, as my passion for undiscovered and engaging music drives me ever onward. I find, however, that the best place to start this review is in the silence after the album first ends. You may very well find yourself so wrapped up in another world by the end of They Became the Falling Ash that the album fades out of your perception, leaving you unaware entirely that you are no longer listening to music when it ends. Instead, the mind reels at what it has endured over the prior hour. There is a clashing of both stillness and so many thoughts flowing, yet the result is peaceful. When one has triumphed over the emptiness, even just a moment of calm is a victory. Ethereal Shroud seems to understand the importance of healing through immersion in pain and excels at delivering sorrow and beauty in equal parts, often in unison.

To get to the silent place where peace heals all, one must first endure the ordeals presented over the course of They Became the Falling Ash‘s three related songs and the story they tell. Opener “Look Upon the Light” allows itself to stretch to a full twenty-four minutes in length to best unlock the majesty and sorrow that, if you can believe it, Absolution|Emptiness only began to touch. Winds howl and water drips as Ethereal Shroud’s familiar synths welcome the album into existence, with the occasional bell resounding to mark the oncoming storm. Tension slowly builds with the addition of guitars until the album’s first chord rings out after about two minutes of ambiance. While Ethereal Shroud still uses this song to offer its trademark of depressive black metal with a nod to funeral doom, the opening section’s anthemic pace shows serious growth. There is a sense of excitement and wonder that is effectively instilled before everything goes bleak. That’s not to say that the delicate balance of melody is lost, but the triumphant leads take a darker turn as sole member Joe Hawker begins chanting his misery across it all. The howls of a condemned man guide the song to more urgent territories, yet even at its fastest Ethereal Shroud is never aggressive. Despite detailing a mournful fate, there is a solemn acceptance that makes even the most outrageous moments feel more like the heavy heart of one facing death than a prisoner lashing against circumstance. As the song’s mid-section builds near the fifteen minute mark, it’s hard not to feel your heart race. The overall effect is truly devastating. As with each of its companions on this album, this song could have easily been an EP unto itself and felt fully realized, yet the suffering continues in the most beautiful way after the song’s end.

With what is easily the most bombastic opening to a song from Ethereal Shroud, “Desperation Hymn” kicks in with all the fury of death by immolation. The pyre is lit, the music is tense, and the vocals seem to have escalated in ferocity by the time this song begins.  For a song that is less than half the length of the two surrounding it, it is every bit as gripping and filled with sorrow as anything else. The album’s protagonist faces death with firm knowledge of its immediacy and permanence. There is no hope for meaning in one’s end, simply the release from continued suffering. The song’s greatest strength is its ability to shift from a trudging pace to the fluttering of a racing heart with the listener pulled along as if nothing had changed. It’s the emotional highs and lows that often feel forced for other artists that Ethereal Shroud conveys so brilliantly, and this song fits as many in as it can.

To close an album of such depth is no easy task, but with “Echoes in the Snow,” Ethereal Shroud gives the listener something that resembles closure. Questions and thoughts may remain by the album’s end, but a resolution will be found in one way or another. As its predecessor fades out, “Echoes in the Snow” lets in a momentary breath of air. Winds blow in the distance, ushering in an opportunity for contemplation as the narrator’s demise approaches. Forsaken, cast out, and entirely detached from all human and spiritual comforts, the yearning for death rises above all else. The chiming bells return, this time signaling an end rather than a beginning. The end comes slowly and with great weight, yet Hawker’s compositions hold up well even when stretching to such lengths. The pacing is deliberate and dirge-like, in keeping with the music, yet the finality of it all brings such immense peace and certainty. It’s not quite an uplifting catharsis, but the album ends its stay with a song that will surely stand as one of 2015’s most memorable. From the build to its final rush and the silence thereafter, Ethereal Shroud has surpassed last year’s release in a way that is truly hard to put into proper words.

They Became the Falling Ash is currently available on Ethereal Shroud’s bandcamp and will be released on tape by Grimoire Cassette Cvlture in the near future.