Scenes are a funny thing, right? They’re basically just another form of narrative, an attempt by human brains to quench their hunger for patterns. Reality is often a lot more complicated but narratives (with scenes among them) give us a pretty little diagram that we can refer to when trying to make sense of it all. ASG is a great example of this; the band have been in operation since 2001, nearly two years before Baroness was even a band, and represent one of the crucial stepping stones from the early stoner/grunge/rock/whatever bands of the 90’s (like Kyuss or Queens of the Stone Age). And yet, they often cite later bands (like the aforementioned Baroness and Torche) as their influences, with the former’s vocalist doing artwork for one of their albums.
That’s what you get when you look closely at scenes: an incestuous back and forth that is often at the core of making the music work. And that’s what they’re good for as well, that overlapping between styles, personnel and influences that make a certain type of music go. However, it also has its disadvantages, often spiraling away into repetition and a culture of carbon copies disguised as “inspiration”. ASG’s latest album, Survive Sunrise, shows that ASG clearly benefited from all of the fermentation that scenes represent, that bubbling of sound and inspiration at the basis of it all, but also inherited some of the issues inherent in the concept.
When Survive Sunrise shines, it shines really hard. This happens when tracks break away from the standard structure and sound that we’d expect from an album with that cover or that guitar tone or that type of vocalist. Good examples include “The Heaven Moon” and the following “Kubrick Colors”. The former features the ASG sound down-tuned to an extremely pleasing degree, a fact which injects the track with tons of energy from the get-go. The slower pace also works well with the vocals, creating a sort of tension between their brighter timbre and the thick, resounding tones of the guitars and bass. These vocals then explode into a shriek right before the incredibly infectious chorus, where the Torche influences immediately spring to the foreground.
Right after the aural whirlwind comes a quieter track, more progressive rock influenced, namely the aforementioned “Kubrick Colors”. The opening guitars blend beautifully with the nighttime samples (reminding us maybe of some tracks on Devin Townsend‘s Ghost) before the outro picks up on those dreamy themes and ends on a louder, catharsis filled note. When these tracks are playing, ASG is at their best, relying on their influences while shucking away the trappings of their scene which might bind them. Unfortunately, and maybe understandably, these trappings are a necessary part of the band. This results in most of the album being very much “of its type” and a bit too far away from the more experimental and off-kilter journeys that the above-cited tracks represent.
Indeed, this kind of exploration seems to have been reserved mostly for the mid/late parts of the album. The opening, everything up until the sixth track or so, is very much expected. It’s not bad per se, but we’ve heard it all before; the guitars are treble heavy, laying the ground for the “sweeter” sound that made this group of bands famous. The vocals are melodic and prominent, the drums likewise, with the bass chugging away at the low end to support the whole thing. You won’t find anything offensive here but if you’re looking for an album that kicks what has become a somewhat complacent scene in the ass, Survive Sunrise isn’t that album for the most part.
Which is a shame because the fire is clearly still there. Standing at the edge of a very long career, ASG still seems to have the passion for the music they’re making. However, putting that passion forward into music that’s still relevant is a bit too rare on this release. When it goes, it goes and those few more interesting tracks are probably worth your time with the album. We just can’t help being left with a desire for more as this album ended, tantalized as we were by some of the directions hinted at near the end. Sadly, Survive Sunrise spends too long with its darling sound instead of kicking it to the curb and going its way. Perhaps on the next release? When ASG decides to do that, they definitely still have the ability to deliver a great album; until then, their music scratches an itch but doesn’t do much more than that.
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