“Swedish death metal” – it has quite a ring to it. Much like “French cheese”, “American burger” or “Japanese game-show”, it has a built-in quality of, well, quality. Ashcloud is not just Swedish, mind you. The combined vocalist and lead guitarist Gareth Nash is from the UK, but this fact has not caused the band to include crumpets, afternoon tea or controversial referendums in their music. At least not more than they would have if this had been a pure, Sundsvall-based Swedish death metal act.
This initial rant about nationality has some relevance for the music, since Ashcloud do have a clear Swedish vibe. Not at all in the sense that they play 90’s rehash – while it is easy to detect influences from Clandestine or Like an Everflowing Stream in the often D-beat based, aggressive style, there is something else going on here. The one album that Kingdom of the Damned makes me think of more than anything else while listening is not even a death metal album, but rather December Wolves thrashy, crusty black metal masterpiece Completely Dehumanized. Considering that this is a different genre that may sound like a strange comparison, but it is made because both albums contain a very similar sense of mad, angry urgency.
From the semi-melodic, pissed-off opening riff of “Among the Grotesque” to the wailing lead guitars of closer “Megiddo”, Kingdom of the Damned is pure energy. Not the ridiculous energy of young, lively people protesting and singing songs of hope and anger, but rather the exploding bitterness of an axe-wielding drunk finally losing it. Because of this sense of primordial, decaying disgust, and because of the solid growling grunts, the clear punk influence that could have been annoying does nothing but add a certain flair. In fact, apart from death metal and punk, Ashchloud have managed to include all sorts of elements in ways which could be labeled progressive, were it not for the fact that they have all been compressed into a concise, ultra brutal style that resists any such designation.
The songwriting is top notch. Rather than haphazardly piling an endless series of riffs and tempo shifts on each other as many lesser, and perhaps a few greater, bands in the genre would tend to do, everything on Kingdom of the Damned is put together just right. The black metal-laced “When Empires are No More”, the deliciously deathly “The Serpent King” and my personal favorite – the aforementioned “Among the Grotesque” – are all brilliantly structured tunes. Apart from being bat-shit insane, which goes for the album as a whole..
Dave Rotten of Xtreem Music has a thing for adding great bands to his roster, and the signing of Ashcloud is another solid proof of this. Kingdom of the Damned is released on the 20th of June and will be of course be available from the label’s webshop and bandcamp (for digital).