Shadowgarden - Ashen
Napalm Records
Gothic Rock/Metal
10 songs (41'59")
Release year: 2010
Napalm Records
Reviewed by Alex
Surprise of the month

Just like any health nut is bound to have a sweet tooth, the purveyor of dark symphonic deathdoom Jonas Ericson (through his impressive outfit Draconian) turned out to have an inkling for a more commercial gothic rock side of things. With his old buddy from the earlier Draconian days Andreas Hindenas Shadowgarden was concocted and the band unveils Ashen as its first (and hopefully not one and only) full-length.

Concerned in the least with complex songwriting and multiple interchanging atmospheres or moods, Ashen is pretty single-minded in its approach. This is a very radio friendly music, centered on simpler song structures, trying to make the next song’s chorus have a bigger hook than the one just prior to it. To be fair, Ashen is not soft and girly, but blessed with a hefty modern production, juicy thick drums and guitar sound overdriven to the max.

Following a certain blueprint for many a song, after the main melody is introduced, Shadowgarden then often takes the guitar overdrive off in the first verse to create a more percussive open structure (Last Summer, With Love and a Bullet, The Withering of Mine, 1:40 AM). The main hook is presented come chorus time, as well as a dramatic lingering lead (Shadowplay, Way Down Low), all music elements never losing sight of dark romanticism. Having described Ashen, the following statement can be made and should not be misconstrued as a slight – the album can be considered gothic pop music made heavy. And once it is done tastefully well, the way Shadowgarden does it, you can’t help not to hum those songs or wanting to hear them a few times over. The only diversion from the scheme of things is the longer slower closer Slowmotion Apocalypse. And slower also means heavier for Shadowgarden with the appropriate doomier semi-growl application.

For dark melodic inspiration Shadowgarden often takes a quick trip to the land the latter days Sentenced called home. The steely colder sound and melody of Sorrow’s Kitchen is a tribute to Miika Tenkula. Mathias Lodmalm also would have been proud his winding down of Cemetary and the introduction of Sundown are also duly remembered by Shadowgarden. Not as much stoned withdrawn Depeche Mode voice (except probably Murky Waters) the male vocals in Ashen are mostly manly, even if creepily stealthy at times (Sorrow’s Kitchen). The bio sheet would have you think that Lisa Johansson, Jonas’ Draconian partner in crime, contributes a lot of her voice to Ashen. In reality she only leads away on With Love and a Bullet and has the help of fluttering piano to contend with the chuggy riffs. The male-female duet on that cut can’t be called an amazing Draconian glimpse, both voices getting drowned a bit by the heaviness of the chorus.

I would not be able to continuously feast on music like Shadowgarden, but I need albums like Ashen to come at me periodically. Rather quickly, and often subjectively, the conclusion would be made in my mind whether this commercial music is tasteful and appealing (Sentenced, Theatre of Tragedy, The Crest, early Poisonblack) or dumbed down and boring (Delain, Asrai, later Poisonblack). The former albums are often kept in my car being thrown on occasionally when decompression and relaxation are required.

Killing Songs :
Shadowplay, With Love and a Bullet, Sorrow's Kitchen, Murky Waters
Alex quoted 81 / 100
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