Hope Drone - Cloak of Ash (2015)

Finding new music is easier now than it's ever been. But one thing has remained the same throughout the shift to the internet age: word of mouth will always make the biggest impact. It might not be from a literal mouth, as internet music sites, message boards and e-mails are certainly the load bearers. But when you've heard a name mentioned enough times, it's time to give in, and listen. It worked with Solstafir. It worked with Chelsea Wolfe. So when Hope Drone kept popping up in various mentions, it was time t see what the growing buzz was about. Australia isn't new to great metal exports, as we covered many times on this very site. But few bands, from down under or elsewhere, have tread the path that this four piece has begun to clear. On Cloak Of Ash, they tear down some of the walls of black metal, and rebuild them in more interesting forms.

What is purported to be an album of seven tracks is really something more; within each track there are multiple distinct movements, as if they are songs within the song. While this may not be a new concept, it is taken to new heights here. The opening track, Unending Grey, is structured more closely to a classical piece, ebbing and flowing through moods and tectonic shifts of power. In one swoop, you run through the entire gauntlet from soft and foreboding to treacherous and menacing. They harness all of the raw power that black metal so firmly relies on, but make it a vessel for other sounds. That is, however, a tricky proposition. Sometimes, a rose can just be a rose; there doesn't have to be a second level. Knowing the difference is key when making an album of this reach. As such, it'd be the unrelenting moments of raw energy that bring you in, but the times of atmospheric beauty of the instrumental that take you somewhere else. The dichotomy is incredible.

One point that deserves mentioning as an aside, is the construction of the vocal track. It harbors much of the unrefined black metal norm, often sounding like it was recording far from the rest of the album. But it's that separation and distance from the mix that makes it work. On the whole, the production is top notch, with the mix itself achieving the desired sound to each and every movement. Tracks like The World Inherited are a showcase for that, as the shift from ethereal haze to blasting snares comes quickly, and yet presents no stutter to the mix. The fact that the thought would even cross your mind is beautiful in and of itself. After all, "when you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."

The entire album plays like a massive whirlpool, spinning you around in ever narrowing circles before finally pulling you under. There are times of sheer, unavoidable turbulence, like much of the last minute of The Chords That Thrum Beneath The Earth, that feel almost too heavy to handle. In their fury, though, there is a tremendous amount of detail and obsessive attention to it. More often than not, that fact goes unnoticed and unappreciated in black metal offshoots, with people focused more on the basic sound and structure than the depth of them. In fact, much of Every End Is Fated In Its Beginning exists in that space between dark and light, hovering in the shadows. It also delivers one of the best lyrical bursts on the album, with the final line reading "As your hands turn to ash, breathe on them." It's a stark reminder that there is meaning behind what seems to be madness; a story that, while open to some degree of interpretation, centers around the world's end. That you can feel it in the music, as well as you can in the lyrics is a tremendous achievement.

It wouldn't be disingenuous to say that 2015 has been the year of the avant-garde. Bands who have gone off the beaten path, and forged one of their own have thrived this year. With this album, Hope Drone find themselves in exclusive and illustrious company. They've taken black metal's very foundation, and shaken in to the ground under the weight of their songwriting and creative approach. Cloak Of Ash teeters on the brink of chaos, always threatening to break down and crush everything around it. But it manages to avoid catastrophic failure and steady the swirling waters it helped create. The length of the album - over 77 glorious minutes - may be trying for some; this isn't an album you can likely finish on a short commute, or between classes. But the length is equal to the impact here, something that much shorter albums rarely lay claim to. And if you can commit to it, the time will be well spent. Bring a helmet.

9/10

Bandcamp - https://hopedrone.bandcamp.com/

Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/HopeDrone