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In a just world, many, many things would not be as they are today, and one of the biggest changes would be creative, killer bands like this one getting way more recognition. Ashes to Ashes are a Norwegian band playing a dark, moody style of Symphonic Metal that manages to pull in influences from Power Metal and Doom Metal to create a powerful, vital sound that captivates right from the first notes of "New World Obscure." And once you sink your teeth into this long, dark journey through the catacombs of the underworld, there is no going back.
Ashes to Ashes' sound is not heavily reliant on one component. Everything seems to work in perfect unison. Kenneth Brastad's vocals are a definite highlight, as they are deep, clear and absolutely wonderful. He can adapt to whatever style the band is playing flawlessly, from a more metallic style on the first few songs to a dark, growly rasp and also a more melancholic croon, and he just sounds great doing any of them. The emotion pouring out in his voice is almost unparalleled, too. The riffs are just stellar, played out with class and a subtle sense of melody that just works really well. They're not always terribly prominent, but when you do hear them, they never fail to please, being both crunchy and full of depth. The orchestrations are very prominent, and the compositions often resemble that of actual classical music - especially on the stunning "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi" and the great title track. This should sound ridiculously pretentious, but somehow it does not.
We start off with the riveting, stomping "New World Obscure," and instantly Ashes to Ashes will suck you under their spell with heavy, grooving rhythms and staccato riff patterns, with a mesmerizing, haunting chorus to boot. "Embraced in Black" is even better, a longer and more epic song with a catchy riff and some morose operatic vocals for the chorus, and there's a killer solo, too. "Truth on Scaffold" boosts more symphonic wizardry (all while still keeping the metal present), and "Behind Closed Eyes" is the most commercial number here, but it's very nice, with a gamut of hooks for your consumption. There are a few short instrumental pieces which they do not add a whole lot to the album, but they don't detract anything either, so they are fine.
This album has its flaws, as the drum sound sucks, and the songs here aren't always terribly memorable, but Ashes to Ashes had quite a competent piece of work here, and it's a shame they haven't gotten more popularity. Cardinal VII is a beautiful album filled with pomp and passion, and I advise any fan of melodic Metal or somber classical music to check this out as soon as you can. Ashes to Ashes are in the process of recording a new album, so be on the lookout...
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com