In my teenage years I hit on an idea that changed my whole life and outlook on the world. Our desire for safety and comfort has led us to delegate more and more reaponsibility to a central body who promise to look after us and keep the wolves from the door. What resulted was the creation of human zoos.
The societies we have created are wholly unnatural environments. We created these live within in order to protect ourselves from the harsh, violent, unpredictable natural world. In doing so we believe we have bettered nature and have somehow surpassed it.
We have shaped our bodies to this new environment, and make use of the tools nature gave us in synthetic environs, in short bursts and in time we allocate for the expression of these base movements. We shape our minds with drugs to suppress the natural reaction of the brain to being always on. Always alert. Always on edge.
Our cities, towns, villages, streets and even homes have all be sculpted around a function we have invented to provide maximum security and safety at the expense of completely losing connection with the natural world – a decision that may well have sealed our demise.
It’s up to each of us individually to reconnect with that natural world, and this realisation led me to the art of parkour. Forget about the freerunning you may have seen where shiny tracksuit clad blokes flip about in an urban environment instead of a gym. Parkour as an artform was created out of a visceral need to express ourselves physically as human animal rather than as an economic unit.
The expression of this art is in using all modes of movement the human form allows for (running, jumping, climbing, crawling etc) in order to traverse our wholly unnatural urban environment and create new paths over, under and through structures designed to funnel us blindly between work, home and designated leisure locations.
I have never heard the term before, but Hostile Architecture is a perfect way to describe this unnatural environment we find ourselves surrounded by. Not only is it designed to reduce us to econs, but it aggressively tries to stop us from seeing ourselves and others as anything other. This is the subject matter that Scottish avant-garde black metal act Ashenspire have chosen to tackle with their second album.
I’m always in favour of more saxophone in metal music and Ashenspire is more than happy to provide this. Not only do we get sax, but violin, hammered dulcimer, piano and Rhodes electric piano appear at one point or another alongside the classic guitar/bass/drum trio across the 44-minute runtime of Hostile Architecture. Despite this eclectic instrument line-up, what strikes me most when I listen to Hostile Architecture is the unhinged approach to vocals. We get singing, screaming, ranting and pseudo-spoken word passages that add to rather than detract from the seemingly chaotic instrumentation. This chaos is a delight to behold. The aforementioned instruments all play their part beautifully. Ashenspire evokes the exact sense musically as they do lyrically.
There is a perverse, twisted beauty to brutal, utilitarian architecture and it takes time to go from feeling unsettled or even repulsed by it to, if not enjoying it, then being able to ignore your disgust. In much the same way, this collection of songs is written from the point of view of an individual who sees society laid out much like that architecture and feels that aforementioned disgust. The hammered dulcimer performed by Otrebor of Botanist (who else?) introducing The Law of Asbestos soon melds with sax and violin, lulling the listener into a false sense of comfort before kicking the doors down and shattering that serenity with dark odd time black metal and a wandering sax line, soon moving on to more traditional black metal fare – the blast beat. It takes time for you to come to your senses to fully understand and appreciate what is going on musically sometimes, but everything serves an exact purpose and channels an almost tangible loathing through song structure and progression.
I’ve talked at length about the thematic nature of this record and hopefully, you get a picture of the noisy avant-garde black metal that Ashenspire plays from the passage above. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the lyrical content I alluded to. Some of the lines delivered here hit me right in the heart. The sincerity of delivery adds to this of course, but how can you not live in 2022 and be touched by lyrics like “when you can’t see the stars you stop dreaming of space“? Lyrically, this is very clearly RABM, but I don’t see that as an unreasonable place to come from when you see your own life become incredibly hard and witness friends or family suffer, or die because of austerity measures put in place thanks to cruel and dispassionate ideology that sees you as not much more useful or valuable than a cockroach.
On every front, this is not an easy listen. Thematically, lyrically and musically Hostile Architecture was written to challenge the listener. This is not a house of amateurs; this was done with full intent. As if we don’t have enough challenge in our lives! But despite this, I strongly suggest you take a rabid waltz with this group of angry Scots because it’s likely you are angry at the same things as they are, and Hostile Architecture will be the soundtrack to your rage.
Can you dance?
Ashenspire will release Hostile Territory on the 18th of July independently. You can buy it here.