For Fans Of
Starting your album with a 20-minute track is certainly a bold statement in immediate aural form. However, length is sometimes a fitting declaration, which sets the foundational blueprint. Folks, Hope Drone’s newie, ‘Cloak of Ash’, is a marathon not a sprint, so get comfy and ensure the ears are made for endurance.
Atmospheric black metal, with hints of sludge, is a niche style within an already niche sub-genre. But hey, if you’re going to get your feet wet, you may as well submerge yourself completely. Importantly, that’s the initial appeal here. Locals Hope Drone take a tough genre with a notoriously critical fan base, who analyse an album right down to final 16th note transition, and simply relish the challenge. For this reason, ‘Cloak of Ash’ marks itself as a committed release, which travels all the way down the chosen musical path instead of merely meandering at its corner.
Black metal at the forefront, there’s a greater geographical divide though, as the influence of those cavernous, winter loving Scandinavians never overwhelms the rest of the composition. While some malevolent tones carry over, Hope Drone have greater texture and a suitably polished sound to their seven-track record. The band is like the middle point. ‘Cloak of Ash’ is grittier than music cut from the same cloth as contemporaries like Deafheaven, but it’s more inviting and articulate than traditional (and often provocative) Northern European KVLT.
‘Unending Grey’ starts forcefully, with the metronome ticking over, as the rhythm blasts and the guttural and raspy vocals pierce with trademark volume. This blend and subsequent complementation of instruments is significant. Too often on albums of a similar style the vocals are either enveloped and/or hidden behind the mix or the double kick pedals sound like they’re hitting the bass drum like a feather on skin instead of with the brutal precision of a sledgehammer to a brick wall. The opener begins fast and then turns its attention to its foreboding, atmospheric moments instead of vice versa. The music cascades, rising then falling, extending then drawing narrower with a minimalist mentality. However, there is an equally expansive mindset, which allows the band to bring in a range of elements.
The full-length does ask a lot of the listener though. It requires attentive minds and less than conservative temperaments. Think Wolves in the Throne or perhaps China’s Ghost Bath, Hope Drone are dynamic through experimentation. ‘The World Inherited’ is the first moment where the album breathes through a middle tempo approach.
The additional charm of ‘Cloak Of Ash’, whether intended or not, is, that while the music drips with so much pessimism, it feels enthusiastic. Yes, there are plenty of downtrodden and moody elements, but, despite the band’s Facebook protestations that there is “no future but nothing”, the music is comforting. Drown in self-pity if you want, but the record feels triumphant instead of restrictive. Later track ‘The Waves Forever Shatter Upon Our Shores’ serves its instrumental purpose, while closer ‘Carried Apart by the Ceaseless Tides’ ties all proceeding moments together.
‘Cloak Of Ash’ is an exclusive listen but not an elitist one. If attention permits then you’ll be greatly rewarded.
An international label debut can bring its own associated pressures. Hope Drone, evidently, have ice in their collective veins. ‘Cloak Of Ash’ is rich in atmosphere and supports the band’s intent to capture a “live” sounding record. Yep, it’s a good one.
1. Unending Grey
2. Riverbeds Hewn In Marrow
3. The World Inherited
4. The Chords That Thrum Beneath The Earth
5. Every End Is Fated In Its Beginning
6. He Waves Forever Shatter Upon Our Shores
7. Carried Apart By The Ceaseless Tides