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Black Light Ascension – Ashes

Black Light Ascension is a project that has taken the electro world by storm — only, rather than being able to mean that in an overtly positive way, it seems more like it has left many people confused and unable to know what to think of the debut album in “Ashes”.  After all, Andrew Trail’s work in Knifeladder, in its few closest moments to Black Light Ascension in tracks like “Head of the Serpent”, immediately reminds one of an intent focus on the experimental and somehow darkly tribal side of his paired musical subconscious with John Murphy.  It is a project that, in those moments, is far more in tune with a recurring dedication to the complexly percussive, whose themes and sleazy bass-driven rhythms border on the surreal or lascivious — and sometimes both.  However, those moments are few and far between as Knifeladder, far more often, prefers the abstract and the hypnotic elements of what I’ve always described as “tribal drone”.  Black Light Ascension, on the other hand, operates on the other end of that spectrum, giving Trail a very indulgent outlet that he is rarely able to find in Knifeladder, that which moves away from the abrasive and is both melodic and vocal, and brings along influences from his past that include post-punk and minimal electro.  That isn’t to say that Trail’s work in Knifeladder has left him unsatisfied — by all accounts, Knifeladder’s current hiatus is due to the deportation of John Murphy from the UK to Germany.  This obviously opens up more time to Trail’s other interests, the most notable of which has manifest with “Ashes”.

With all of this in mind, it should be noted that with Black Light Ascension, Trail surely isn’t trying to break any barriers — if anything, “Ashes” seems more like a personal forray into nostalgia for Trail with tracks that range from coldwave to atmospheric industrial rock.  The album begins with the moody “Ocean”, a track that opens up modestly enough behind a synth-based bass-line and Trail’s own baritone voice.  The track is full of electronic experimentation — both rhythmic and atmospheric — and evolves slowly until an all out wall of rhythmic, droning ethereal sound is achieved along with the help of an increasingly grooving distorted bass-line.  “Ocean” more or less sets the tone for what will accompany it with the rest of the album, with the occasional blatantly Joy Division-influenced track (“your time”).  “Club Death” ends up having a rather fitting name as it comes off as one of the catchiest songs on the album, featuring a dance-floor atmosphere and more impressive grooving bass-lines, a feature which by the middle of the album has come to define B.L.A. as a whole.  “Jack in / Burn out” continues this lineage later in the album, giving the release several dance-floor ready singles that are more than capable.

Unfortunately, the middle area of the album in “The Pact” and “In the Garden” seem uninspired but aren’t flawed on a performance level, they just simply don’t have the energy that the first part of the album has.  “This World” doesn’t fare much better being composed on much the same scale, but “The Dream” makes up for all of the above with an exceptional vocal performance that takes the tension and petulant atmosphere to a new level.  The repetitive proclamation that “this world is a better place without you” is up-front but still subtle enough that it comes off as relatively unsettling.  The vocals are performed in front of minimal synth-laden dark electro but there is just something about the song that comes off as incredibly passionate.

There is definitely room for improvement with “Ashes”, but there’s a great deal to love as well.  The quality in the inspiration behind tracks can vary greatly depending on what mood the music puts you in from start to finish, but it is effective on many levels.  Not all tracks are dance-appropriate nor are they meant to be.  “Killing Cycle” for instance is just an atmospheric dark industrial rock track, flowing sullenly to close out the album and nailing down the spot with an intense, solid composition.  It seems to exist in a musical direction outside of the rest of the album yet fits perfectly at the same time.  There is a lot of potential in the album, and the sophomore album should find Trail with a more concrete presence.

Track List:

01) Ocean
02) Your Time
03) Club Death
04) Blinding Colour
05) The Pact
06) In the Garden
07) Jack in/ Burn out
08) This World
09) The Dream
10) Killing Cycle

Rating: 3.75/5
Written by: Sage
Label: Hau Ruck! (Austria) / HK!102 / Digi-CD
Dark Electro / Post-punk / Coldwave