Aseethe- The Cost (Album Review)

June 19, 2024


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I’m not quite sure how everything aligned, but June 21st brings two new heavyweight sludge/doom albums from established bands on the same record label.  Not only does the lengthy new effort from Sumac release, but the fourth full length from Aseethe is sure to leave just as big of an impression on fans of the genre.  The Illinois based group has often had longer gaps between their albums, with numerous EP’s and splits filling up the space, but besides a Thou cover and single release in 2022 things have been fairly quiet since 2019’s ThroesThe Cost makes it clear that Aseethe has continued to push themselves in the interim though, as it refines and refocuses their emphasis on droning minimalism while also providing some more direct, pummeling grooves. 

Aseethe has spent much of their career trying to wrangle as much power and bleakness as possible from sparser compositions, letting their ideas build up methodically with droning, dense riffs.  Hints of Neurosis and Khanate were definitely present, but with each effort they’ve pushed further off into unique territory and been able to make better use of the drone and noise elements.  The Cost feels like the most complete merging of these different elements to date, as they not only have written more complex material that has multiple peaks but placed more direct attacks in between.  The title track kicks things off with a slower, methodical tempo where the guitars and bass work in tandem to create a dense and desolate soundscape.  While the first minute or two continues along a straightforward path, around the three-minute mark melodies are layered in that add a sense of dread, and this is built on further a short while later when the distortion fades out entirely and a hauntingly beautiful melody steals the spotlight.  “The Cost” continues to have this type of back and forth between beauty and decay until it reaches its conclusion, and even the extended bursts of noise and droning effects at the end remains captivating.  If this track was Aseethe trying their hand at a more complex and multi-faceted song, the next two pieces go for the polar opposite with more direct bludgeoning.  “The Air Is Caving In” touches more upon the hardcore side of sludge with churning, aggressive riffs and a slightly bouncier tempo, and “Last Time I Do Anything For a Fucking Friend Ever” follows suit while throwing in a bit more noise at the end.  These two pieces remind me a bit more of the direct and more focused attack that the recent Thou album was going for, and while these songs don’t quite reach the same peaks as the other two on The Cost they still have memorable moments.  “Irrelevance” is the one I’ve been drawn back to the most though, as it has an extended droning intro that has a tense, almost dark ambient and power electronics vibe before unleashing crushing riffs and monolithic drums.  Where some of the group’s past material has felt a bit meandering at times, the way the synths and added effects come together on these longer numbers is more focused and keeps you on edge as you anticipate how everything is going to build up.

Bassist Noah Koester’s first recorded appearance with Aseethe was on their 2018 split with Snow Burial, and this has provided some different vocal ranges that complement Brian Barr’s lower growls.  There’s a good amount of back and forth throughout The Cost, as you’re initially met with the denser growls that seem to tower above the recording with their sheer amount of power, but higher shrieks are soon added into the mix.  When it comes to this sparser and minimalist approach to sludge and doom, a lot of groups seem less focused on their vocals and their performances come off as repetitive, but this isn’t the case here.  There’s a sense of unpredictability to whether you’re going to be bludgeoned by the highs or lows on a given song, and the way that Aseethe moves between the two gives them more diversity than listeners might be expecting.  Sometimes things sound a bit more like sludgy hardcore, while other passages channel some of that tortured Khanate tone, ensuring that things sound as dark and destructive as possible.

The Cost showcases just how far Aseethe has come since their earlier days, as it showcases both their layered, droning side and more aggressive riff driven one in equal capacity.  Where some of their past exploration of drone and noise didn’t fully click with me, here the synths and effects keep a sense of tension that kept me interested to hear how the layers built up.  It’s still as bleak and destructive as one could want, but there’s a more nuanced feel to how the material ebbs and flows that makes it stand out.  Aseethe’s tended to go under the radar since their 2007 formation compared to some of the other doom and sludge acts out there, but efforts like this showcase they deserve some extra attention.  The Cost is available from Thrill Jockey Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg