Happy third day of Hallowmas! It’s the Day of the Dead, aka All Souls’ Day; and while we’ll get into describing that later next week in more detail, for now we’ll help you celebrate with this week’s musical offering.
Unto Ashes is a musical ensemble that describes itself as “unrepentant purveyors of apocalyptic folk, medieval doom & gloom, dirges & drones.” The group was founded in the U.S. in 1997 by Michael Laird and Susanna Melendez and is based in New York City. It’s also replaced some of its members along the way – two members emigrated to Germany in 2008 for musical reasons – but that hasn’t harmed their music any, and they still record. Early members included Michael Laird, Natalia Lincoln, and Erica Hagle (that trio was in place for their first, self-titled recording in 1997), but they’ve had a lot of sidemen come and go since. They have 10 albums out now, and their most recent recordings are the 2012 albums Burials Foretold and Spellbound In Winter (think The Snow Queen and creepiness in white ice).
And they have a number of tracks on YouTube, which allows us to choose one for this week’s Special Halloween Spooky Song Of The Week: their take on that nouveau-Goth classic, “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Their version isn’t the pop-top-40 one you heard on the radio. Instead, it’s a stranger, more haunting acoustic guitar arrangement – with some stunning images in the music video – of the so-so yet annoyingly catchy tune by the otherwise forgettable Blue Oyster Cult. Trust us: you’ll like this one better, and it goes well with a dark and stormy night.
Unto Ashes’ sound has been described by others as a blend of one or more of the following: Medieval, Classical, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, Goth Rock, and Renaissance. Like Depeche Mode and Dead Can Dance, with whom they’ve been compared, Unto Ashes has a Dark-Romantic streak to their output. The All Music Guide calls their music post-punk Dark Wave, Dark Ambient, Goth Rock, and Alternative/Indie-Rock. Their website says: “Founded in 1997, Unto Ashes are among the foremost purveyors of ‘blood-lit’ music, by which they seek to explore the beautiful and terrible currents that weave themselves through our lives. Their highly original music is informed by Medieval dirges, Apocalyptic Folk, Black Metal, Spinning and Harvest chants, and German Romantic sensibilities. Epic and exalted; claustrophobic and suffocating; vital and menacing; glorious and impenetrable: Unto Ashes is all – and none – of these.” I’ll go for All Of The Above.
But ‘blood lit’ – ?? Gee, I guess if you can have chick-lit, you can have blood-lit, even blood-lit music. But how, exactly, this is supposed to differ from regular Gothic influences isn’t entirely clear to me (well, maybe because Unto Ashes doesn’t verge into noisy heavy metal, thank heavens). Rather, their instrumentation relies on odd combinations of one or more of the following rather than screechy rock guitar and loud bass: Appalachian and hammered dulcimer, cello, French horn, acoustic and electric guitars, piano and synthesizer, harmonium, hurdy-gurdy, Persian and African percussion, Indian tamboura, and drums.
Two of my Unto Ashes favorites, the strange “Kösépkorbács” and the eerie “Viper Song,” are from the 1999 album MOON Oppose MOON (the phrase is taken from astrology). “Viper Song” sounds like a Grimm sleigh ride into dark oblivion, whereas “Kösépkorbács” makes you imagine a lead-in to a foreboding gypsy ritual in the woods. Cool. These tracks aren’t currently available on YouTube, unfortunately. Perhaps in the future. But you can hear the group online at Last.fm, and you can listen to snippets from the entire album MOON Oppose MOON on Last.fm.
Wishing you a boo-tiful Day of the Dead, and many dark kisses for all you Dark Romantics out there.
Your own spooky spin-jockey,