Reviews Amber Asylum Still Point

Amber Asylum

Still Point

The first time I listened to Still Point I was riding to work on the top deck of a double-decker bus at eight o’clock in the morning. Record opener “In the Still Point He Remains” was just starting; sounds could be heard moving backwards and forwards in the dark; slow strings breathing and playful chimes jangling, the inevitable build having begun. As this was happening, I looked out of the window to my left, where, over vast fields and the rooves of many suburban homes, I could see the ocean stretching onwards.
On the horizon, a beam of light was cascading down from the clouds in some kind of divine pillar of luminosity. At the same moment I spotted this, the real brass on the record kicked in - decadent but calm, patient and powerful. While at the back of my mind a miniature version of me was jumping up and down, shouting “This sounds a bit like that GYBE song!,” for the moment I was transfixed; disarmed by the queer earthly providence in what I could see and hear. This was a real moment.

Classical music, opera and anything in-between are forms of music that are almost exclusively based on gradual and progressive development, be it leading to one or more turbulent crescendos or simply the slow layering of sound upon sound, movement upon movement. Neo-classicists Amber Asylum have a frontwoman in the name of Kris Force - a name that some may recognize from any number of places (her extensive résumé includes collaborations with Neurosis and Swans, and the role of lead sound designer on video game The Sims 2). Her ethereal vocals give Amber Asylum’s sound a rare kind of footing that somewhat defies the tradition. Fearsome and colossal in the way that only this kind of operaticism can be, the ever-present soprano is something of a hand to be guided by.

The solidity of the vocals, whilst being one of its advantages, also serves to remind how slow the record can be at times. After the tour-de-force opener, the recurring flute melody of “Black Phoebe” brings everything back down to earth a little, but the next six or seven tracks of Still Point feel completely unwanted at times; a mixture of the cinematic, the pompous and the entirely draining packed into a homogenous ball of dark. Despite it having all the “moments” in the world, its intrinsic nature leads it to run together a little too well.

Listening once more to “Loss is the Sword”, a mid-album track that did in fact stand out to me, it feels like a decent representation of the record as a whole - good, maybe even great, but entirely limited. This is puzzling though, as Amber Asylum, although undeniably apocalyptic, are as far from the likes of unfortunate cello-rockers Apocalyptica as you can imagine, having infinitely more in common with various post-rock outfits.

It is perhaps the fact that their sound cannot be taken lightly; Still Point runs the gamut of unfortunate emotions, from fateful coolness to mournful gloom, but the entire record is washed in an unparalleled and overwhelming bleakness. It’s not often that a record holds the ability to appeal to such a broad spectrum of tastes, from metal and industrial to folk and classical, but it’s debatable whether those audiences will have the energy for it.

Will you listen to Still Point an awful lot? The answer is “probably not”. But when you do feel the urge to listen to it, it’ll more than likely be worth it. So if it’s your last day on earth, take yourself down to your winter beach house, settle into your rocking chair, stare out towards the sea, and experience Still Point as it was meant to be experienced.

6.0 / 10M.J.
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6.0 / 10

6.0 / 10

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