I have no idea where the time goes. ‘Spring is coming,’ began the accompanying PR mailer for Askara’s second album, ‘Lights of Night’. Since then, we’ve had heatwaves and hailstones, and the seasons are as blurred as the passage off time.
They promise ‘powerful gothic metal’, and that’s precisely what the Swiss four-piece deliver on this solid eleven-tracker, which has been four years in coming.
‘The Birth of a Star’ raises the curtains with supple piano and beefy riffery, before ‘Nocturne of Cold Mystery’ plunges into the realms of the boldly dramatic. The rolling piano and chunky guitars provide a theatrical backdrop to Miril’s gruff, growly lead vocal and Elia’s delicate, melodic pipes.
The instrumental arrangements are pretty constant throughout with piano featuring heavily alongside the standard bass, drums, and guitar, but they switch the tempo and tone abundantly: the multi-segmented, multi-faceted ‘Through Fire’ is a rock opera condensed into a six-minute metal mini-opera with monster thrash segments.
If at times the snarling vocals inch toward the vaguely corny or cliché, then the magnificent, almost folksy contrasting vocals provide the necessary relief, and ‘Lights of Night’ is well-crafted with a clear sense of balance as well as drama. Nine-minute ‘To Alisa Rock’ is both a centrepiece and a song that summarised the entirety of the album’s sounds, style, and grand ambitions all in one, developing from an expansive, almost progressive folk introduction, via numerous twists and turns into something else entirely.
Miril’s cavernous bark may be an obstacle for some, but they clearly define the band’s sound and serve to render it distinctive, and over the course of ‘Lights of Night’, Askara ride layers of pomp, with the end result being impressive, albeit more technically than emotionally.
And, while I know full well that this is an album review and not an artwork review, the foldout CD sleeve with the full album lyrics is nicely done. When everything is streaming and download or deluxe vinyl, it’s a genuine pleasure to hold a CD package that looks and feels like some proper effort’s gone into it, at the same time knowing that appreciating a physical format isn’t going to cost £30.