Album Review: Ruination | Drown In Ashes
There is nothing new under the sun. As discouraging as this idea might be on one level, there is also an element of freedom to it. Namely, a release from the assumed responsibility to be completely original. Something which is, strictly speaking, impossible. There are only so many notes in music and only so many letters in the alphabet. What matters most is how you use them, and interpretation can be as important as originality. True originality really stems from taking bits from various sources and putting them together in a new way, which is something that is important to keep in mind while listening to Ruination, the new EP by Vancouver-based trio Drown In Ashes.
Not ones for subtlety or nuance, the band really comes out swinging (with baseball bats) on “Less Than Human,” in what could, charitably, be called a nostalgia piece recalling the high-volume rage anthems of the 1980s. Adopting the “scream like you hate the bitch” approach to singing, vocalist and bassist Jay Townsend really sounds like he is going to kill you (or himself), coming off as genuinely scary, giving even the most “Satanic” black metal frontman a run for his money. While there is certainly ample power, particularly from the pile-driver drums of Owen Lewis - whom I suspect of being some sort of human/octopus hybrid - it is not all brain-crushing intensity. Valek Morke's guitars are played masterfully with an almost instinctive sense of when to play rhythm or lead, switching between both effortlessly and at times even counter-pointing Townsend's vocal fury.
Things amp up considerably on track two,“Plague of Discontent.” Getting to eyeball-shaking levels of intensity, Morke still manages to maintain a vaguely melodic element even when sounding like he is going for the World Record for fastest-broken guitar strings. Townsend's bass tones are above average, at least partly meaning that they cannot entirely be discerned in the final mix. While this sounds like a diss, it really is not. The main job of the bassist is to widen out the drums and add bottom and weight to the guitars. The only ones who really stand out are the ones who are either terrible or show offs. Townsend is neither. Lewis is once again solid, providing the backbone of the track, sounding like he could serve as one of the dreaded metronomes as opposed to using one.
Things go in a different direction again in track three, “Disconnected.” Taking on more of a thrash element, this is definitely one of the more accessible of the tracks for non-metalheads. Despite the title, all the elements are admirably tight, Townsend doing what he does best in terms of vocals.
There is not much new on track four, with much of the jackhammer style instrumentals carrying over from “Disconnected,” and Townsend's vocals still sounding like he’s chewing out the boss who just fired him from the steel plant. This is not a bad thing by any means. It’s just when your album only has five tracks, it’s a good idea to try and make them sound as different as possible.
This is something that track three, “Suffocate,” attempts admirably. Lewis lightens up somewhat on the kit, focusing more on speed rather than sheer power. Morke handles his riffing duties admirably, switching between straight ahead thrash, escalating scales and comparatively plodding melodic sections with some decent high-end leads thrown in.
Townsend, for his part, sounds somewhat less blood-curdling, his skillful bass tones no doubt played with new strings and a decent amp, holding everything together.