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StarOfAsh - "The Thread" (CD)

StarOfAsh - "The Thread" CD cover image

"The Thread" track listing:

1. How to Invent A Heart (1:21)
2. Him And Her (4:13)
3. The World Spins For You (5:13)
4. Drag Them Down (5:40)
5. The Snake Pit (4:42)
6. An Apology Gone Bad (3:59)
7. Blood, Bones and a Skull (5:27)
8. Crossing Over (5:25)
9. Epilogue (2:37)
10. Neo Drugismo (3:16)

Reviewed by on July 24, 2008

"“The Thread” defies most standard conventions of music by using vocals only where strictly necessary and allowing the instruments to do the talking. "

After the disbanding of Norwegian avant garde metal band Peccatum, the musician known as Ihriel went on to front her own solo band titled Star of Ash with the album “Iter.Viator,” which sounded quite a bit like the later works of Peccatum, but without the growling male vocals. The same cannot be said of “The Thread,” which has left the sound of Peccatum behind and progressed into something completely new. Many musicians who have worked with Ihriel in the past, as well as a few new faces, make appearances on the “The Thread,” but the consistently upheld theme of the album and tight composition prevent any of them from wrenching the album’s unique sound away towards the style they are each famous for.

“The Thread” defies most standard conventions of music by using vocals only where strictly necessary and allowing the instruments to do the talking. There is no singing of any kind until the very end of the third song, and large gaps without vocalizations are frequent after that point. The devil truly is in the details here, as the quiet little subtleties are the most important aspects of each song. The music of “The Thread” has to be carefully paid attention to in order to get the full effect, which becomes quite apparent when almost three solid songs use nothing but unassuming chiming keyboards and occasional grooving bass lines to build up a very carefully crafted atmosphere. The entire album plays out like some sort of grand mystery that can only be untangled with repeated listens.

Even without the menacing growls and shrieks typical of the music Ihriel has been involved with in the past, “The Thread” can still be immensely frightening. As many of the more famous cult European metal bands have shown in recent releases, playing mellow music does not have to mean any loss in power or extra hardship in maintaining an aura of evil and dread. The quiet menace and unexpected sounds of the song “The Snake Pit” would not at all be out of place in a survival horror video game or zombie apocalypse movie. The track “Drag Them Down” can also be quite chilling, but in a curiously muted way, with soft sounds that are the aural equivalent of catching the briefest glimpse of a ghost from the corner of the eye.

The album briefly crosses the line into actual metal with “Blood, Bones, and a Skull,” where the whispery keyboard sounds continue unabated underneath dancing guitars that swirl back and forth between the left and right side of the speakers. The musician Garm of the band Ulver unexpectedly throws in his smooth vocal talent just as the song appears to be drawing down to an end, singing a morbid and gothic interpretation of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Proud Of My Broken Heart.” Dickinson’s work is also given a Star of Ash make over in “An Apology Gone Bad,” which is a fitting name for a song that solely uses the poem “The Heart Asks Pleasure First” as lyrics.

Famous Norwegian hardingfiddle player Knut Buen works his magic throughout the entire album, but the most notable use of his strings is in the song “Crossing Over.” The song starts to sound like it could have been an extra track from the Hardingrock album “Grimen,” on which Ihriel also collaborated, until Garm and Ihriel begin trading off vocal duties to sing a forlorn song that purposefully keeps the lyrics obscure and abstract enough that they could be interpreted as a discourse on the nature of life and death, or a lament about the way relationships between men and women always play out.
“The Thread” ends appropriately with “Neo Drugismo,” a song laced with distorted and indiscernible vocals from Japanese author Kenji Siratori, who is well known for championing the “bizarro” style of writing that utilizes out of order narration and baffling sentence structures.

“The Thread” may not always be able to keep the attention of those seeking constant blast beats and want to hear exclusively screaming vocals, but it is well worth exploring for anyone with an interest in ambient or experimental music.

Highs: Quietly menacing keyboards and guest apperances by many famous metal personas

Lows: Requires repeated listens to fully appreciate and is mellow enough that the average extreme metal fan may not enjoy it

Bottom line: A highly complelx and understated album that takes time to sink in, but is well worth the effort for fans of ambient or experimental music

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)