Asva Futurists Against the Ocean

[Web of Mimicry; 2005]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: doom metal, dark ambient, post rock, stoner
Others: Boris, Lustmord, Dead Meadow, Fantomas

Back in 1991, when I was working at a record store in Kansas City, I came across a new release by a band called Cathedral, entitled Forest of Equilibrium. My curiosity was stoked when I read that it was a new band fronted by Napalm Death's lead vocalist, Lee Dorrian. The album's cover art, however, gave no indication that this music was going to be in any way similar to the grindcore of Dorrian's former band. I assumed, based on the Bosch-like, pseudo-medieval cover art and the funereal images in the liner notes, that this was going to be a darker, gloomier beast entirely. And I was right. Downtuned guitars, Sabbath-esque riffs, downtempo dirges, and a guttural growl for vocals were the order of the day on Forest of Equilibrium. I instantly took an immense liking to the record, which became a sort of guilty pleasure for me, as the early '90s seemed a period of time in which there was no place for metal at all. Now, thanks to The Wire, the fine folks at Aquarius Records, and a musical paradigm shift back towards '70s rock and metal as viable musical forms in popular music, a plethora of doom/stoner bands have since sprung up from the ashes of grunge. Now that Kurt Cobain has long since departed, I suppose metal isn't something we don't have to be ashamed of any more. After all, look what Chris Cornell is doing now.

Without question, Asva lean toward the more experimental side of the doom/drone metal spectrum. Futurists Against the Ocean, their debut on Web of Mimicry, consists of four tracks: two extended guitar-based drone pieces sandwiched between two lengthy, more traditional "doom" tracks. The press kit, however, is careful to mention that Asva is "not your average 'doom' band," which is for the most part a fairly accurate assessment. Asva have much more in common with Earth, Boris, and Skullflower than with High on Fire, Kyuss, or Monster Magnet. This makes sense, as the band consists of G. Stuart Dahlquist of Sunn 0))), Trey Spruance of Mr. Bungle, and Secret Chiefs 3, and also features former members of Burning Witch and Master Musicians of Bukkake. With a pedigree like this, the listener's expectations should be enormous.

Overall, Asva deliver satisfying avant-metal that is unfortunately inclined toward the genre's more perfunctory trappings, without treading any particularly new ground. Vocalist Jessika Kenney, of the band Black Horse, provides almost-operatic vocals on Futurists Against the Ocean's third and fourth tracks, contributing to the record's experimental appeal and uniqueness, and providing an additional haunting depth to the music. Kenney's vocal range is impressive, and she uses her voice to embellish the tracks with avant-garde classical flourishes. There is something both otherworldly and sinister in the way her vocals can veer from stylish crooning to tortured screaming (though, fortunately the band opt to keep the vocals buried somewhat deeply in the mix).

When it's all said and done, though, there really is nothing particularly revolutionary about Futurists Against the Ocean. The emphasis here is on texture, atmosphere, and, naturally, The Riff. The tracks feature a sonic density that resonates heavily with the listener, and it is to the band's credit that they are able to sustain these lengthy pieces without belaboring them to an overly tedious degree. The album's production is pristine, the musicianship is tight and crisp, and keyboardist Troy Swanson's organ playing is another impressive highlight of the record that stands out significantly. Considering the cast that is assembled here, however, the album ultimately left me wanting more. Perhaps Asva's next album will see the band reining in their sensibilities a little, and focusing on a more song-based structure with more tracks and variety. The band's combination of talent and skill shows that they are capable of great things. Although it is by no means a wasted effort, perhaps Futurists Against the Ocean is merely a lengthy teaser that is a taste of a fantastic record yet to come.

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