It takes a lot of guts for a band to start their album with a 20-minute-long song called "Unending Grey". It's a steep admission price to ask of a listener, and the jokes about "unending" things write themselves. But yet, Hope Drone does that on their new album, Cloak of Ash, and it might just work.
I really liked the band's previous self-titled album. It hit an emotional chord with me at the perfect time, mixing post-black metal with vocals that come close to a pure distillation of emotion, with all the inherent beauty and ugliness contained therein. That album was a relatively svelte affair at just 35 minutes, but their Relapse debut is big. Really big. An hour and 18 minutes big. My first few listens made me fear that the band's deft touch for melody was getting lost in the expanse of the album's runtime, but I've come to an interesting place with this album since then.
Take that opening track, for example. It starts out of the gate with pure fury--the band is a master of slow-moving melodies over complex rhythm--but the song drops down into a delicate, gossamer place at about the 5:00 mark, and it stays there, slowly building, for the next seven minutes. That subsection of the song is longer than most whole songs, but there's something eerily compelling in it. Listened to at the right time and in the right environment, it feels like just a moment passing by, yet still filled with wonder.
I said this album "might work" at the outset, and sometimes the album still feels too long to me. Couldn't they have cut some of the riff repetitions? Well, maybe, maybe not. Maybe that would change the entire feel of the album, sacrificing something crucial from its character for brevity. Listening to this album I often found myself in a strange state of uncertainty, unsure of whether I was losing myself in the music or just getting lost. But I do know that, about a week ago, I took a long drive listening to this, and the album just made the miles disappear. It's strange to say for an album that I'm writing a positive review of, but I probably wouldn't recommend it to just anybody. That said, I won't soon forget the trance it put me in while I was belting down the highway, and if that sounds like a place you might like to be, you should give this one a try.
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