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Unpolished, undeveloped, but showing promise - 42%

iamntbatman, June 27th, 2013

This demo has to be one of the most flagrant examples of a solid concept wrecking itself like a train that suddenly hit a sweet, sweet ramp and careened directly into a puppy orphanage. One-woman black metal from the vast frozen northlands of...Michigan, but with a really nice foresty photo on the cover, nature-themed song titles that go beyond the genre standards to sound really enticing and track lengths that scream long-winded but powerfully epic.

The demo starts exactly as you'd hope, with some calm acoustic strumming that brings to mind things like Ulver's Kveldssanger. And just as it gets going, BOOM. The shittiest, most heinously inappropriately programmed blastbeating drum machine charges its way in, crushing that acoustic guitar riff before it even knew what was happening. It literally cuts the riff off and shits all over everything. It's like a conclave of elves in a pine forest clearing slowly starting their homage to the stars above with soft strumming of their lutes before the angelic voices and cascading strings and harps comes in to take everything to a higher plane of existence, then a hippopotamus strolls in and takes a massive shit on all the elves. Ever seen a hippopotamus take a shit? Look it up on YouTube.

It's seriously unfortunate stuff. The thing is, Meghan Wood's pained blackened screeching is really quite good; she's got a knack for the vocal style without a doubt. Her lyrics are usually a little too esoteric for my tastes; with a theme as concrete as foresty nature-worship, I think her more descriptive passages are her best by far. The guitar tone used on the album is pretty good, too; treble-heavy but full enough to let the chords ring out. Wood also has a knack for layering guitars to great effect. The intro movement to “Beneath the Boreal Twilight” sounds like a much more professional band. However, whether that's real bass or, more likely, programmed, the bass just sounds plain bad, often thumping along during one of the album's many extremely awkward transitions. Some of the guitar playing, especially during the album's faster parts, gets damn sloppy. There are also really subtle synths that sometimes hover above the entire mix and close to my brain, usually echoing the chord progressions.

Since it's an album and not a confessional, it's nearly impossible to tell if the music's creator is aware of the album's quite crippling problems, and furthermore if she's aware of the success of the elements that really do work well. If the drum programming was about 600% better, either done more competently or with better samples or ideally both, we'd be halfway there. Better still, get a live drummer, as this organic type of black metal would really benefit from a human touch in the percussion department. As for the bass, learn to play a real bass or else omit it completely; it's nearly inaudible most of the time anyway and bass VST's just sound totally awful the vast majority of the time. More focused songwriting, with better-planned transitions would make these lengthy tracks feel like songs, rather than bolted-together slideshows of bits of foresty atmospheric black metal. Some riffs are awkward and ham-fisted; the bit that opens “Ascendancy of the Stars” just sounds like gibberish until the focused riff starts right as the vocals kick in, then it all goes to hell again when the blasting starts.

It's a frustrating listen. Moments of true inspiration and talent abound, but almost never last as long as you want them to before they're utterly wrecked by that awful drum machine, an unwelcome and unprofessional transition to an entirely different theme, or a shift to a sloppy, poorly thought-out riff. I sincerely hope that Meghan Wood is aware of these issues and is capable of working to polish them because Crown of Asteria is a project with a hell of a lot of promise. And here's hoping she turns her bloody vocals up on the next one!