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A year ago, if someone had told me that I was going to be blown away by a Drone-recording in 2008, I’d probably have shrugged at the insinuator, with disregard or mockery. While I can find the vibrations and pure force interesting, the genre seldom offers more to captivate me or keep the mind from wandering, so naturally I would not call myself an aficionado. However, considering the resumes of the members of ASVA, including BURNING WITCH, SUNN O))), MR. BUNGLE, FAITH NO MORE, and GOATSNAKE, they had to have something unique to offer.
It’s been three years since the release of the eight-piece’s debut album "Futurists Against The Ocean" (which I will make sure to check out in the near future), and since then their driving creative force, G.Stuart Dahlquist, had to endure the torment of losing his brother. The impact of this has naturally become a part of the songwriting-process, but even though the feeling of despair and desolation lies in thick layers on "What You Don’t Know Is Frontier", the album is not without a shimmer of hope. Hhaving eight members in the band makes the title-track a lumbering behemoth of sound, roaming the feedback-encrusted plains with sluggish thundering steps. Then the equally awe-inspiring “Christopher Columbus” washes over you like a tidal wave, accompanied by a very unsettling death-rattle. Like a serpent bellowing from deep within the ocean, it’s a quite frightening beast, slowly building up towards a gruesome release. Then there is total silence.
When everything has been torn down it’s time for rebirth and redemption. “A Game In Hell, Hard Work In Heaven” offers just that, taking the brilliance of minimalism to its natural conclusion. A simple guitar strums quietly, and is soon joined by a lamenting organ that takes hold of the listener instantly. What follows is one of the most astounding emotional pieces of music I’ve heard in a long time, with eastern vocals completing the sorrowful trinity. As always, after rain there will be sun, and in the final minutes of the song the pace picks up as the clouds break, and light illuminates the battered ground.
“A Trap For Judges” is the longest journey on the album, clocking in at a meaty 24 minutes, and is truly monumental in its enormity. The magnitude of each riff feels like a thousand bricks slowly hitting you in the stomach, but instead of simply being mindless amplifier punishment this is a multilayered composition, full of nuances and subtleties to keep you pinned to the seat. It all ends with a somber church-like organ, like a final eulogy which lets the music come to definitive peace with itself.
After experiencing "What You Don’t Know Is Frontier", your ears will be ringing for days, but with every subsequent exposure it will grow bigger and better, uncovering deeply emotional and personal aspects as you go along. And remember, if it aches it’ll be a cathartic kind of pain, so let yourself be washed away by the cleansing wall of sound.
(Online October 1, 2008)
Written for the Metal Observer