DVNE – Asheran Review

2 Aug

DVNE

That’s some artwork, eh? The music more than lives up to it too.

Forgive the solipsism but it’s been a very long time since I have been as excited about a band as I am about DVNE.

It’s even more thrilling that DVNE are sludge-inspired band that have picked up the baton dropped in the desert dust many moons ago by personal favourites Baroness (and to a lesser extent Mastodon and Kylesa et al) and run off in the kind of direction I wish their forebears had set their sights upon.

This blog and metal blogging in general is dead, the occasional fragrant wisp escaping from its beautiful corpse. It’s kinda sad but it’s OK. Things decay and feed what comes next. I get most of my new metal from Shreddit these days and that’s where I was gifted DVNE on the weekly recommendations thread. A wondrous serendipity.

Their new record is so damn fantastic, I dusted off my blogging trousers and set to document its dazzling brilliance.

Let’s take it back a few months to when I impulse bought the clear red vinyl of 2013 debut EP Progenitor from Bandcamp after just 5 minutes of listening. It was just that good. It had heft. It soared. It wasn’t afraid of its own fierce strenth. I loved it immediately (there’s 30 left at the time of writing – buuuuyyyyy itttt!).

It’s now genuinely among my favourite records of all time. An absolute beast of stargazing pysch-sludge with a sci-fi bent that blends mammoth, churning riffs with harsh vocals of the Baizley school that occasionally alternate with cleans he could only dream of.

This is all a very roundabout way of introducing DVNE’s first full album Asheran, which has finally dropped in the wake of two outstanding EPs (the aforementioned Progenitor and slightly annoyingly CD and digital-only Aurora Majesty, which is also of sterling quality).

I will eventually talk about the bloody record I am reviewing but I’ll admit a twinge of concern about the direction Asheran would take after Aurora Majesty, which was a slight left turn into crustier territory, with a trace of black metal in the vocals at least.

It’s an excellent EP, particularly the rampaging and fabulously-titled Of Blade and Carapace, but I really wanted to see where they took the space sludge of their debut.

Thankfully, at least from my perspective, Asheran is just that. An epic paean to the galaxies above driven by the kaleidoscopic energy of their exuberant,  irrepressible proggy sludge.

Before you even drop the needle on it, this album is a beautiful thing. Lovely gatefold double album with lush retro sci-fi artwork adorning high quality packaging. The vinyl itself is 140g and the two discs are joyously weighty.

It’s really easy to enjoy DVNE’s cyclonic riffs, spiraling leads and roaring vox on their own without paying a shred of attention to the lyrics. Great stretches of their records are instrumental after all. Despite my general disinterest in metal lyrics, following the lyric sheet on DVNE’s records as the songs unspool is actually well worth it if you love old school sci-fi narrative that harks back most obviously to the Dune books and movies but also to Isaac Asimov and other classic 70s authors.

I don’t plan to dwell too long on the concept as this isn’t Pitchfork and to be honest, I’m not sure what it’s specifically about. I don’t really care either. It’s enough that it’s oblique, atmospheric and feels suitably epic.

If you want to try to tease out some specific meaning, then go for it. From reading the lyric sheer, I get a sense of civilisations rising and falling and a profound sense of loss tempered by renewal but that’s just my initial impression.

If you are still with me – I’m impressed, I tossed any semblance of concision and wit out the window many paragraphs before – how does Asheran sound? [Finally! He gets to the bloody point].

Absolutely bloody huge is how it sounds. If only John Congleton had dialed in this sheer scope and weight of sound for Baroness’ fantastic but sonically restrained Blue Record, what might have been?

It’s spacious, rich and fucking heavy. The riffs barrel in and smash everything in sight before ascending to the heavens, taking us with them. At the very best moments, you will feel atomized: unmade by the twin power of riff and scream.

From the get-go, it takes no prisoners. Walloping you in the face with a left-right of ten-tonne riffage and fierce yet plaintive bellows that are adorned with earworm melodies like precious gemstones on a battering ram. Yes, I’m mixing my metaphors but I’m punch drunk on this record.

DVNE live

I really need to see these chaps live in a small sweaty room

Melodious yet supremely powerful, this is quite possibly the most impressive modern expression of that Savannah, GA sound I love so much.

Emphasis on the modern. DVNE’s epic debut full-length Asheran is far from a retread of Static Tensions, Leviathan or Red Album.

It manages to be progressive and concept-driven without tripping over its own technicality (I’m looking at you mid-period Mastodon) or getting stuck in (albeit awesome) Sabbathisms, ahem Kylesa.

Their compositional chops are exquisite. The opening of Side III is a great example of how to control atmosphere over a double disc. After the roiling churn of Side II closer Descent of the Asheran, the subsequent Sunset’s Grace dials it down a notch and takes its time to build up the tension with gorgeous ascending, repeating leads.

Connected to this is the fact that DVNE continue to be just about the only sludge band that can do cleans that work as well as the harsher roars. Not only do the cleans actually sound good but the contrast is truly effective. They seem to know just the right time to pummel and to hold back and let you gain your breath, both vocally and instrumentally.

The key to this perhaps and DVNE’s secret weapon is their mastery of the churning riff. They circle and circle, hypnotically building tension until it’s just the right time to let rip like a blazing comet streaking in technicolour across the heavens. It’s goddamn glorious.

It is a long album. Eight songs over one full hour. Two songs per side on vinyl. But it doesn’t sag at all. In fact, it builds and builds with each ebb and flow to a wonderfully executed climax that makes you want to listen to it all over again. The end of each song leaves you breathless, excited about the journey you’ve been on and where you are going next.

DVNE deserve to be huge. Selfishly, I hope they don’t follow in the footsteps of Baroness and Mastodon. They are the true flagbearers of this sound now. No-one can touch them.

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