Written by: Dave Cantrell
There is the standard danger, of course, and in many if not most instances counting as friends the members of a band one is set to cover in any critical context is cause for automatic recusal. In this instance, however, a couple issues arise to challenge such a policy. One is the simple fact your correspondent, via his weekly FM radio show or the festival(s) etc it spawned over the years (which isn’t to mention social media), has formed personal relationships with a wide swath of the darkwave community from pretty much all corners, making any such ethically reflexive separation virtually impossible. Two, put simply, such stringency would mean that, when a band has released an album as visceral and outright powerful as Ashes Fallen did this past September*, faithful readers of SEM, who have come to rely on our coverage since at least the early twenty-teens when that ‘NEXT Twenty Current Post-Punk Bands You Should Know About’ series launched, would be left, well, in the actual dark. In short, trust us. There ain’t no payola at work here, simply love. And desire. And joy, and the urgent need to share such emotions with our readers so they can experience them too. Music is often as pure a source of manic enthusiasm as is available in this life and conveying that is what drives us. It’s pretty much a matter of salvation for us as we believe it is for you as well so now that that’s settled, fucking hell, let’s walk through some fire together.
Formed some half-dozen years ago or so and operating from a base not far from Sacramento, Ashes Fallen are a trio comprised of husband/wife team James and Michelle Perry – the latter from New Zealand and yes there is indeed quite the sweep of grand Trans-Pacific romance behind that fact – and guitarist Jason Shaw. Generally speaking, they’re all responsible for the impressively dimensional wave of sound pounding with grace and momentum through the Grados at the moment (primary vocals are James though with significant assistance – read:presence – from Michelle, James joining Jason on guitars but also handling bass and drums, Michelle the main keyboards maven while the music derives mostly from James and the lyrics a husband/wife joint venture) but whatever the division of labors the end result throughout is one of nervy, on-the-edge cohesion, the record entire playing out like a treatise on the rich overlap between post-punk and unabashed rock’n’roll. Think the Sisters with a more nuanced application of eyeliner and a fair bit less of the overt OTT portent. This is that strong.
Wasting no time, “Damn Me” opens proceedings by arriving fully locked in compulsion and groove (dark as sin as that groove may be) before “The Last Mistake” takes up that baton and carries it forward with an epic, stirring, damn near classic panache, the na-na-na-na vocables toward the end lending themselves quite generously to that assessment thank you very much. Resting not, along comes the melodic, pulsing “Reborn in the Cleansing Fire,” it’s tension that delicious type we all yearn for not least this time of year as here in the northern latitudes winter approaches in all its throes and swirls of wind, darkness inching forward. And so it goes.
“New Normal.” in just three addictive minutes (artful concision, an oftentimes too-rare quality, is definitely in play here), breaks down the everyday breakdown we see and feel happening all around us all the time and while we may lament the message we can’t help but feel grateful it’s passed on to us in a song that has our heart nearly dancing out our chest. “Scar,” on the other hand, lures like a ballad trapped inside a dark – if nonetheless hopeful – dream while closer “The Blood is the Life” wends through similar atmospheres but with something of an exquisite slash-and-burn quality, a turn of phrase that, in fact, could well be applied to the whole damned record.
Of crucial mention, we’d be remiss to not give ink to this CD’s packaging, arriving as it did carefully clad inside folds of matte-black gift-wrapping tissue paper sealed shut by a bespoke, blood-red blot of wax stamped with the band’s vine-draped ‘A’ logo, all of it hand-done, all conceived and carried out by Michelle. Passion is often betrayed by labor-intensive attention to detail and while in too many cases such extraneity is a naked, performative attempt to compensate for a dearth of anything memorable inside, in Walk Through Fire‘s case it’s an actual, substantive key to the contents within. It’s almost as if – imagine this – it’s Ashes Fallen’s intent to restore the act of making audio art, packaging and all. Whether or not that was what they set out to do the fact inescapably remains that they’ve done just that.
Which shouldn’t surprise.
Superbly self-produced – not to mention self-released and distributed – by the Perrys, a wholeness of sound permeating every crease and corner, there could scarcely be a goth album more finely attuned to the feel we all feel as we approach the quarter mark of a century that stands before us like an apparition scythe in hand. The irony (if it is such) is that the album and the band that made it do so in a way that somehow empowers us with deathless hope and a drive toward survival on our own terms. A lot to lay at the feet of one little album in a very big world but, again, we’ll be fucked if Walk Through Fire doesn’t do exactly that. [pick up Walk Through Fire here]
[* – Do please pardon our delay. SEM’s senior editor – ie your author – moved house this past summer/fall and not just across town but 370 miles away, an effort damn near biblical in scope, not least due the (ahem) 14 boxes of vinyl]