Harvest of Ash – Ache and Impulse Review
As themes for a metal concept album go, a migraine is a compelling one. I myself suffer from migraines on occasion, but not nearly to the extent of Mrs. Cherd, who needs emergency meds always on stand-by. If you’ve never had one, they go far beyond headaches. There’s the pain, of course, which can be debilitating, but there’s also the sensitivity to light and sound, visual disturbances (aura), even hallucinations in some cases. Neurologically, they can closely resemble seizures. You may get confused, have trouble speaking or moving, and the pain is almost all you can think about. Salt Lake City, Utah’s Harvest of Ash have made the four stages of a migraine, prodrome, aura, headache (also called attack) and post-drome, the underpinning concept of their debut album Ache and Impulse. Fittingly, their preferred mode of delivery for songs about constant pressure and oppressive pain is a particularly chunky brand of sludge doom. Will Ache and Impulse split your skull in the best possible way, or will it make you want to lie down in a dark room until the pain stops?
Harvest of Ash play their chosen genre more or less down the center lane. If opener “Harvest of Ash” is a thesis, then this stuff comes in a can with a white label that says “sludge doom” in black text. The track is built around a sturdy riff without bells or whistles. Nothing flashy, but it’s a decent groove, and the all important guitar tone is thick and lumpy as the beef stew molding in the back of your fridge. Oddly, this track seems disconnected from the rest of the migraine concept, which plays out over the next four songs. Some post-metal influence surfaces here and there, as textures are employed to convey the stages of affliction. “II Aura” skitters and strobes with upper register guitar picking in place of proper riffs, while “IV Postdrome” repeats a numbing groove after a drawn out intro of clean vocals. Bass guitar is given a prominent role in the mix, from the buoyant backbone of “II-Aura” to the scraping drag at the low end of “I Prodrome” and “III Headache.”
There are times when Ache and Impulse delivers exactly what you want from a sludge doom album, namely mammoth riffs that give you stank face. The primary riff on “I Prodrome” is such a one, making the first two minutes of that song perhaps the highlight of the album. The textural elements that mimic migraine symptoms are well deployed at various points, like when “III Headache” begins with pulsing guitar feedback that slowly layers in drums and more abrasive guitars until a riff that can best be described as “throbbing” takes over. The long come-down period is represented in “IV Postdrone” by repetitive riffing that bends psychedelic before opening into a stripped down but nasty refrain. Textures are folded back in until the song, and album, grinds to a satisfyingly cathartic close. That said, it’s not all stank face and guitar chonk.
A close examination of “II-Aura” exposes the larger issues dragging Ache and Impulse down. There’s a fine line that separates those who can perform harsh metal vocals and those who sound like your buddy going “check out my harsh metal vocals,” to which performance you politely fib, “Bro, that’s not half bad.” Vocalist Pepper Glass falls into the latter category. When the guitars and drums are hitting, his delivery is tolerable, if occasionally rough, but as it comes to the fore on “II-Aura,” it just sounds bad. His cleans aren’t much better, as displayed in the opening minutes of “IV Postdrome.” In the absence of distortion walls to hide behind, “II-Aura” also exposes how the band sometimes falls out of sync. After fleeting moments in other songs, the guitar picking in the track’s back half veers well out of time at points, and there’s not enough done stylistically elsewhere to suggest this is an aesthetic decision. While the no-frills songwriting of “Harvest of Ash” treads just on the positive side of the blandness line, “II-Aura” falls headlong into dullsville, though not for lack of experimentation.
While there’s a lot to tighten up, the bones of a good sludge doom band are evident in Ache and Impulse. When it grooves, it grooves hard, and the thematic side is solidly explored. My hat’s off to Harvest of Ash for exploring an idea so outside the usual suspects for a metal album, just don’t ask me to listen to it next time I’m having a migraine.