I’m pretty certain that the idea to fuse the doom and black metal genres started on the doom side. After all, doom spends most of its time in close proximity to stoner rock and whoever came up with the idea that the two genres would make a cute couple was clearly high. The crushing, lets-blow-up-all-the-amps, bottom-heavy power of doom and the tortured vigorous minor chord strumming of black metal should be a million miles away from each other, the black metallers expressing the cold of the Nordic wastes through music while the doomsters get nice and toasty around a warm bong. And yet, the fusion works, focusing on their common interest in taking relatively simple riffs and seeing how many times you can get away with repeating them, all the while infusing enough nuance and subtlety to keep the audience from storming the stage. That kernel of commonality provides enough of a basis for some terrific music to form around it (and as with all music genres, some completely unlistenable shit), with Ilmasaari, the latest offering from Switzerland’s Ashtar happily falling in the former group. Well, as happily as a fusion of black metal and doom can ever make someone.
There’s a real sense of the occult that seeps out of the pores of this record. Even the album artwork has the feeling of a trip gone wrong or a bad dream that just won’t free you from its grip. The feeling is even stronger in the music. The droning chords of the doom sections and the frenzied strumming of the black metal parts are like a sort of call and response. The doom feels like a summoning ritual, the slow riffs often following a similar pattern to ominous chanting. The black metal, in its primal rawness, feels like the answering of that ritual, the evocation of something ancient and powerful. Enhancing this with occasional use of acoustic instruments, Ashtar create an overpowering atmosphere of the uncanny and supernatural which underpins the record as a whole to make it feel like a cohesive piece.
Atmosphere, however, will only get you so far before the audience come to their senses and forcibly remove you from the venue. Safeguarding against this is Ashtar’s musical ability. Great thundering riffs are delivered one after the other, each explored fully before it is discarded to be replaced with something equally enthralling. The band never have riffs for the sake of riffs though. Everything feels like it is part of the greater tonal palette of the album, a giant united work of art that just happens to be entirely composed of slamming riffs. It’s a neat fusion of form and function that pays off in a big way, meaning the album delivers in terms of entertainment and artistic integrity.
As befits a band with such heavy occult overtones, Ashtar have committed a feat of alchemy here, taking elemental riffs and a monumental tone and transforming them into gold. They have not just met the threshold for quality black doom, they have vaulted over it, and raised it a little higher as they did so. Ilmasaari is a terrific album, well worth the price of entry for the hours of entertainment repeated listens will provide. Opening track “Des siècles qui éternellement séparent le corps mortel de mon âme” is embedded below and the whole album is available on Ashtar’s Bandcamp page.