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Some you win, some Ules - 49%

gasmask_colostomy, December 7th, 2017

Named Crushing Axes, you would expect one-man band Alexandre Rodrigues to make suitably crushing music, yet on the evidence of Ascension of Ules, it’s not really the case. I have to admit that I don’t know who Ules is or why their ascension is important to the music, but it seems that some of the parts of that ascension included interludes in the action for vaguely Middle Eastern instruments to be played while everyone thought about just how Ules was ascending. I’m being naughty of course, but this album doesn’t have a great deal of main content considering that there are 12 songs spread thinly across 33 minutes.

The reason why content appears to be lacking is that Rodrigues has put a good deal of time and effort into forming folky medieval music that fills up sections of tracks and whole songs of the album, yet the core of Crushing Axes’ sound is supposedly death metal, which only features for around half the time. In the first place, that might not be to the taste of many death metal fans, who prefer their deathly sections to remain deathly and not to involve things like flutes and bagpipes, which I’m sure I can hear in ‘Journey Through the Dark’. Secondly, the momentum and focus of the album is lost whenever these gentle and evocative instrumentals appear, since none of them have lyrics, they aren’t very high intensity, and – crucially – most of them differ from one another, meaning that there isn’t a great deal of continuity from one to the next. This all makes for a messy, unfinished feeling to the release, especially evident in the two pretty good minute-long numbers seemingly left abandoned at the tail of the album.

However, on some songs like ‘Long Way to Nowhere’ there is interplay between the death metal and other instruments, which works very well, while the impulsive death parts in ‘Bloodpaint’ and ‘Journey to the Dark’ sound good, proving not too brutal for the more relaxed material elsewhere. The relaxed sound comes about from the very deep tones that Rodrigues has chosen for all his metal instruments, guitars and bass rattling around in bassy murk, the drums bubbling flatly, and his vocals a deep, slow exhalation. I would actually like to listen to an album made up of these parts with some of the Eastern melodies and segues thrown in, yet the amount of death metal makes up less than a half of Ascension of Ules. There are also ill-considered acoustic parts, such as ‘Abyss of Death’, which is a song title I wasn’t expecting to introduce with the word “acoustic”, nor is it improved by the fairly flat clean vocals. ‘Flagellated Mind’ features delicate piano/harpsichord work and ‘Misanthropy’ makes do with mostly organ and martial drumming, so the songs like this make it sound as if a death metal album was planned and then a last-minute switch of Burzum-sized proportions took place when Rodrigues realized he didn’t have much electricity in the studio, or some similar catastrophe.

It would be pointless of me to list the death metal and successfully integrated songs as the best examples on offer, but casting off the dross of tooling about doesn’t leave much else. Perhaps it’s worth noting that the album is split into three “acts” (four consecutive songs apiece) of which the first and last are substantially stronger and better-written than the middle one, so perhaps there is some narrative element to Ascension of Ules that I’m missing, though frankly I’m not sure that I would be bothered to find out if I knew there was. This is a scattershot mess of decent folk music and decent slow death that doesn’t make sense as a unit and would have fared better as two separate EPs or a more thoroughly though-out project. As it is, Ules isn’t about to get any more famous.