The majestic gloom of Norway's Ashes to Ashes recalls Evergrey and Savatage. These guys dare to mix gothic, progressive, doom and death metal into an aural amalgam they aptly call "Gregorian metal" – and they actually do it quite well. Singer Kenneth Brastad, accused by some critics and fans as sounding too monotonous on Ashes to Ashes' self-released 1998 debut Shape of Spirits, deftly works his throat from guttural to soaring deliveries, and the three musicians backing him delicately balance the aggressiveness of heavy metal with the refined components of classical music.
With lyrics steeped in religious imagery, these 11 tracks boast such titles as "Embraced in Black," "Ravenous Unleashed" and "Sic Transit Gloria Mundi." Their diversity often makes them sound as if they're performed by different bands, but the dark undercurrent that keeps Ashes to Ashes in its doomy groove seldom strays.
Unlike the latest offerings from Evergrey (Recreation Day) and Savatage (Poets & Madmen), Cardinal VII doesn't contain many uplifting elements. And spinning it on a shitty day will probably only make things worse. Still, you could do a lot worse than this – even on one of those shitty days. Embraced in black, indeed.