Introduction: Does this look edgy enough for you? A young couple with heavy eyeliner and a monochrome? How about the fact that this young lady (Yasmine Uhlin) looks like she’s about to strangle the dude (Anders Hagström) with his own tie? The dark greenish tint to the whole decaying cover? The fact that the album title seems to imply that we’re celebrating recently deceased people? Well if you’d like to avoid the edge, I’m sorry but that’s what we’re doing this week.
Ashbury Heights is certainly the edgiest group in my top ten artist of all time. In fact, they have grown to be perhaps the best group for maximum edginess without going overboard. Now, some might find this a bad thing. When many people think of the word “edgy” they think of people and songs that are overwhelmingly angsty and depressing. Well, those people are absolutely right. And I love it. I’ve honestly been on the edge of edgy since I was a young lad (so about five years ago as I’m still a pretty young lad). It takes a lot to find the edge to be fully overwhelming and as long as the lyrics are down to earth enough and the vocals don’t get too gritty (See Project Pitchfork, Asethetic Perfection and especially Combichrist).
Of course, I did say that they reached that maximum nonoverboard edginess over time. This is the first album in their discography and it does delve quite deep into some dark themes that may make some uncomfortable, so I guess this is my warning to you.
Actually, you know what? That vague warning isn’t good enough. I was going to save the “revelation” for later in the review, particular discussing it at the end, but I do not want to allow you to dive into this blindly, considering its content. This album is unusually dark, even for Ashbury Heights. If I didn’t have a completionist obsession with doing each artists’ discography in chronological order, I would just skip this album entirely, not only because of some of the themes it handles (suicide in particular), but because these themes are handled very badly, so if you’d rather not read that sort of thing I’d advise you to hang tight until next week. This review could get ugly.
Ashbury Heights – Bare Your Teeth (6.25): Bare Your Teeth is a rather simple introduction to the album. Ignoring the lyrics (which shall be the usual focus of Ashbury Heights), the music is rather run of the mill. I’m not saying it’s mediocre or anything, but it doesn’t really do anything to exert itself. Yeah, it’s got a decent drive and some alright melodies, but I could say that about nearly any song. That doesn’t make it good. None of it stands out enough to speak of, so I’ll just move on to the meaty lyrics
Or they would be meaty if it weren’t hard to see where early Ashbury Heights is going sometimes, so please bear (your teeth) with me as I try and parse exactly what’s going on here and try to determine if there’s a hidden meaning to speak of. I feel that the crux of this song must surely be the line “We’re all Mad Underneath.” Maybe it’s just because that feels like one of the more existential lyrics in the song, but I feel it does fit the general theme of Ashbury Heights. When you dig deep enough into the essence of any human being, you will find flaws within. Whether you recoil in horror in the absence of perfection or find comfort in the company of the imperfect is up to you.
Ashbury Heights – Waste of Love (7.5): The verses on this one are definitely reaching for that edge of despair, but before we get into that, I need to talk of the music very briefly before I get distracted by the existentialism.
The melodies in this song are miles above Bare Your Teeth. Where Bare Your Teeth singular bouncy melody that just doesn’t quite mesh with the song in the chorus, Waste of Love has a more slowly paced melody that can be played along with Yasmine’s vocals seamlessly. Where Bare Your Teeth had a monotonic synth playing every eight beats in the verses, Waste of Love has a less energetic melody that fits in a little better with the desperate vibe this song has. It’s just an all-around better song in every aspect.
Speaking of desperation, Waste of Love’s verses are incredibly desperate and depressing. The angst and depression in this song is quite apparent and the whole message of the song seems to promote a bleak sense of nihilism, which is not the most uplifting message. However, the chorus does change this sentiment a bit. It’s not overt, and for all I know it wasn’t the intention, but there’s something slightly inspiring about the second half of this message. Move on from the sorrow and ride forward in life. Keep your expectations realistic. Know that you won’t always be able to keep your spirit up. But whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep striving for greatness. And offset from the grief in the verses, I can’t help but find this to be quite powerful.
Ashbury Heights – SmAlLeR (8): With SmAlLeR, we introduce a theme that Ashbury Heights seems to explore a lot more in the past than in the present. Relationships on the verge of breaking. This can be a bit of a problem in my enjoyment and I guess there will be some biases here and there (or everywhere) in the album because of it. This song is relatively not all that bad in comparison to some others, but there is a risk of this topic as it’s quite unlikely for me to enjoy it. So I apologize for now and in the future when I feel mixed on these songs’ lyrics.
I want to do everything I can to look at this song vaguely because I seem to enjoy picking songs apart and giving my own existential meaning to them, but that’s sometimes a slight bit difficult to do. I’d have to figure out who (or what) the taller man represents. Perhaps he represents the aspects of ourselves that we find discomforting and yet seem to take over our life at times, overwhelming us until our entire world seems to tower over us, threatening to collapse and bury us under the rubble. Ok, that’s actually a better interpretation than I intended to write. I think I’m going to stick with it.
Though if I’m to look at the song without infecting the view with my existential lenses, it’s likely the song is about a relationship in which the man appears to outgrow our singer and she begins to feel lost as her view of the world becomes less focused on the one person she’s with and more focused on the chaos of not knowing where one is going. An overwhelming chaos. Of course, this seems to imply that she’s distressed at his self-improvement instead of striving to follow in his footsteps (which is honestly a bit to negative for me. Self-improvement is something to be lauded, not frowned upon)… except the first verse speaks of his growing sadness and all-knowing tears… so yeah maybe this interpretation is wrong too… Was I actually right the first time? I was honestly just making it up on the spot.
Well, regardless, of what the lyrics mean, this song is once again a musical improvement. The song transitions a bit more smoothly than it has before. With a lot of focus on the bassline made up of a rapid-fire onslaught of lower notes that rise and lower to the mood of the song. They really prefer a stronger backbone for the rest of the song, including the melody. The melody feels a bit smoother too, introducing itself naturally by hiding subtly in the background when vocals are in the way and then playing a smooth descending melody. I feel it’s likely due to the synth choice, but if that synth choice works, then the song is better because of it.
Ashbury Heights – Stormbringer (6.5): …I have no idea what this song is about. Oh I pored over these lyrics thoroughly but I can’t find a hidden meaning behind this imagery of an apparently conscious storm with a calmness underneath. Does this represent how so many people have a harsh exterior that hides a vulnerable center? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just a story of a judgmental storm of a monster that insists on us all being well groomed and dressed nicely or it’s climb in our windows and kill us or eat us alive or something equally horrifying like suffocating our life’s dreams until our ambition shatters (actually considering what I’ve been focusing on lately, that’s the most horrifying thing I can think of).
So, seeing as I’m not going to receive anything but madness from these lyrics, the song stands to receive all of its judgment from being one of the faster paced songs on the album with choirs singing the distance. But what of the melodies? I speak a lot of melody work in this album, but this song has some arps that are worth mentioning too. Arps, when done well, have a great energy to them. This one is a bit subtler than some of the arps I mentioned back in the Mind.in.a.box – Lost Alone review, but I believe it complements the upbeat tempo quite well. The main melody, on the other hand, could use a bit more. It’s not bad, but it does feel a bit overshadowed by the rest of the song.
Ashbury Heights – Derrick Is A Strange Machine (3.25): Jealousy is quite a toxic emotion. Hidden jealousy can fester and weaken any existing bond between two people, mostly directed at the jealous person in question. Expressed jealousy won’t necessarily make the jealousy fade away. It will merely prevent the festering from fully infecting one’s mind and bring down the target of jealousy down a notch towards feeling guilty. And when you get three people involved in the jealousy in a love triangle… things get quite complicated (heaven forbid it become a love quadrilateral by introducing another party).
This song is all about jealousy and the singer’s opinions on Derrick. Feels like Anders may be calling out someone specific that he may be having jealousy issues with and I’m honestly finding the whole toxicity within this song to be rather off-putting. The song starts out healthily enough as he seems to be at peace with a broken relationship he has exited, but his all-consuming jealousy of Derrick and his insistence that the new boyfriend is nothing but trouble is not really all that enjoyable for me to listen to. Now, I have no clue about who is involved in this toxic love triangle or even if real people are involved. Heck, maybe Derrick truly is a strange machine that should be avoided at all costs. But for someone who continually says he doesn’t want to come between by obscenely tattling on Derrick’s past actions in an effort to ruin her love, he sure seems to do a lot of coming between by obscenely tattling on Derrick’s past actions in an effort to ruin her love.
Music is good though I guess, but the lyrics bring this down to the lowers score I’ve put in a review up to this point, though that might change later on…
Ashbury Heights – Cry Havoc (4.25): Anders, I seem to sense some hypocrisy here in these lyrics. But maybe that’s part of the point. Cry Havoc touches a bit on the toxic relationship theme of this album. In the verses, Anders calls out to a girl begging her to stop romanticizing the darkness within her soul. And yet, immediately as we get into the prechorus, the whole tone switches. Cut away at your life*** as your inner demons overtake you and savor your grievance. And then the chorus goes further to setting those monstrous demons free and let life devolve into chaos as both the singer and this girl he was begging to abandon the darkness only minutes ago embrace a life full of deception and death. Who’s romanticizing the darkness now? Like I said, hypocrisy abound in this song. And the darkness does reach levels that teeter a bit too close to the edge of max edginess. There are themes in here that I feel go down an unsafe route that one might find at the existential crossroads. And they do cause a massive deterioration in my opinion of the song.
So what of the music itself? The lyrics aren’t going to help very much with my opinion, but perhaps the music has some hidden within that I can enjoy. Well, unfortunately for the rating of this song, this one is rather average with the music. It does admittedly have a darker vibe to it, matching the tone of the lyrics, but how it reaches that darker tone isn’t exceptionally inspired. Basslines area bit harsher. Melodies are practically nonexistent except for this high-pitched synth that plays in the prechorus. And I don’t even really like it very much. The best part of the song is the melody in the bridge which is actually a bit more enjoyable. Also, the chorus is actually incredibly catchy, though I’d prefer if the message of the song wasn’t so mixed
***looking a bit closer at the cutting line, this might be referencing self-harm which I implore all to avoid under any circumstances. This is the wrong path to take. Seek something positive to overcome the darkness, find anyone you possibly can for support. I think I made it clear in that Mind.in.a.box review that you are never truly Lost Alone. No matter what, there is someone out there who understands your struggle. They might not be easy to find immediately, but they are out there.
Ashbury Heights – Swansong (1.25): Alright, so let’s see how dark we can go as this album progresses. Because this one is about a dying man who asks for the DJ to play one last song for him. Now, this dying man could be on his deathbed due to some severe illness… but this debut album does seem to have a fascination with the darkest parts of depression… and I fear that this death may be the end of a path filled with depression and despair. Contemplating suicide is a very dark place, one that I thankfully have been able to avoid thanks to my core values of self-improvement and change. I’m a bit concerned by the whole namedrop with this suicidal man desiring to hear a song by Ashbury Heights. Sounds like the duo sees themselves as popular with those who may turn suicidal. And I’m not certain how I feel about that. The whole song is lyrically hazy for me…
Perhaps we can find something in the music itself to enjoy. The main melody of this song fits the upbeat vibe quite well and I do quite enjoy the constant choir pad that is ever present in the song. There’s also a neat bassline that comes in here and there, but all of these are small elements of the song. And none of them can truly make me forgive the song for its lyrics. The audacity that Ashbury Heights has to theme this song around listening to it as one takes their final breaths is quite horrendous, which is why this song is rated so incredibly low, not because of the musical content but because of the horrifying implications.
Ashbury Heights – Illusion (2.5): Illusion is Ashbury Heights’ most sexual song and I don’t like it. As of this point in time, I haven’t really gone over some of the more sexual themes in music. Most of my favorite artists stay away from the topic and since I’m only reviewing my favorite artists, that makes sexual songs rare to review. But here we are. Early Ashbury Heights. They made this song and it has an uncomfortably creepy sexual theme to it.
So in procrastination of looking at the lyrics let’s look at the music. It’s a bit harsher than the rest of the songs on the album. There’s just a whole lot more grit to it. The drums, the bass, Anders’ vocals. Only Yasmine and a few synths are untouched by this grit and it kind of detracts from my enjoyment slightly. I can think of much worse examples of this type of edge. Ashbury Heights doesn’t go all the way to the screaming of Combichrist, but it still does irk me slightly.
I thought I might have something to say about the lyrics by now, but they just don’t appeal to me on any level and I can’t figure out how to explain any further than “overly creepy and sexual.” I’m sure some people out there might enjoy this type of stuff, but I’m not one of them.
Ashbury Heights – Angora Overdrive (6.5): Ok, so we’re back at our usually edgy Ashbury Heights love song. Well, I guess the last one was also an edgy Ashbury Heights love song, but that’s a whole different level of edgy. If each song on Ashbury Heights depicts a different relationship, this is actually one of the healthier ones. There’s very little angst here. Just two people who are devoted to each other, that feel they complete each other, that consider each other irreplaceable.
However, it doesn’t matter whether or not the relationship is edgy. The song is edgy anyway. No better way to start a romantic song than with the line “Porno movies could never substitute you.” It seems that Yasmine’s two verses depict the two sides of the coin when it comes to the relationship depicted here. First one is entirely physical, mostly focusing on comparisons to porn and how lust is what keeps the relationship going (at least it’s not falling apart). Second verse explores the cognitive depths of their minds more. I believe this verse tries to deconstruct what love is and fails to do so due to how complicated love can be.
Taking a look at Anders’ chorus there’s more of a neutral balance between the physical aspects and cognitive aspects of their love. And credit where credit is due, this works quite well, with the two drastically different verses. The meaning changes subtly depending on where you are in the song. The two are incredibly reliant each other both due to their physical needs and their cognitive needs. As edgy as the verses feel, this chorus is the most wholesome you’re gonna get from this album.
As far as the music goes (almost forgot about the music), it’s got a decent vibe but it’s nothing spectacular. The bassline has a good feel to it and there’s a synth that sounds slightly choirlike in the chorus that I enjoy. However, the main melody falls kind of flat for me, which really takes down much of the possible charm the song could have had.
Ashbury Heights – Corsair (5.5): Corsair is about doomed love. How uplifting… To be fair, it seems a lot of Ashbury Heights’ early stuff focuses on doomed love. Over time Anders and whatever female accompaniment he has at the time begin to lean towards more focus on the inner workings of the solitary mind (which I love), but for now, it’s edgy doomed for much of the album. This one in particular focuses on Anders pining over someone that might destroy his heart in the process (whether due to inaction, rejection or unhealthy relationship is unclear but none of them sound pleasant). The man constantly underestimates himself throughout the song, thinking he has no chance with her. On one hand, I’d tell the dude to just go for it, but judging from the rest of the toxic relationships on this album, perhaps he’d be better off single. But eh, that’s his decision. The lack of confidence doesn’t really help my opinion of the song though.
Don’t have much to say on this one musically for the most part. The melodies are mostly uninteresting. Only noticeable one is in the chorus and it’s rather repetitive. I do like the higher notes of Anders’ vocals in the prechorus though. I take a liking to male vocals that feel they suddenly reach up an octave beyond the regular range.
Ashbury Heights – Christ (5.25): If you think the fact that this song is named after Jesus, the son of God makes it a wholesome Christian song, then you are dead wrong. This is 2007 Ashbury Heights. Why would you expect anything else but maximum edginess? Yeah, this one goes across the edge of edgy for me like some of the other ones on the album (see Cry Havoc, Swansong and the upcoming aptly named track Suicide Anthem). However, those all cross the line in an uncomfortable way. You see, two roads diverge from that line of edginess and Christ takes the one less travelled by, and that makes it extremely laughable.
Yeah, this song tries a bit too hard to be edgy, but for some reason, the duo didn’t take the dark decrepit topics of the horrors of giving in to extreme depression. No, this song declares that you should praise Ashbury Heights for they’re basically your god now. Oh, but beware, they’re an evil god. SO EDGY! And I can’t help but laugh at the obscenity of the song. I apologize to Anders and Yasmine if they were trying to send some kind of message with this in the verses, but I can’t see the song as anything but a joke. A highly amusing joke, but a joke nonetheless.
Honestly, it’s so easy to get distracted by these likely unintentionally humorous lyrics, that I have troubles focusing on the musical details. It doesn’t really stand out but it ain’t bad either. I have nothing else to say about it.
Ashbury Heights – Suicide Anthem (3.25): Oh boy I wonder what this song is about? More, importantly does it handle the topic well? The answers to these questions are suicide and no. To be fair, it’s quite nearly impossible to deal with a subject as suicide with grace. It can be done, but Ashbury Heights doesn’t do it. They’re much better off backing up a bit and just dealing with existential depression itself (which they do in later albums, but we’re not talking about later albums right now, are we?). So yeah, when it comes to the lyrics, it can all be summed up as “Life sucks, No one loves me, I’m gonna go die now,” which sounds like an absolutely tasteless way to talk of suicide, but that’s exactly what this song does. It tastelessly speaks of suicide.
On the bright side, this song has a nice upbeat vibe with the occasional good melody. So, I’ll give it credit for that. Then again, Yasmine’s vocals are extra annoying this time around so any enjoyment this song is kind of negated by her (and the tasteless suicide).
Ashbury Heights – Penance (7.75): Huh, Penance is actually good. I mean, I shouldn’t be too surprised. There had already been several other good songs on the album, but the last several have been embarrassments to my claim of Ashbury Heights being one of my favorite artists/groups. But this song takes a step back into the right direction. Oh, don’t get me wrong. It’s still edgy, but I can’t really expect Ashbury Heights to not be edgy. I think they have only one song that I’d consider to be fully wholesome and it took over a decade for them to reach that point. At least this one talks of slightly brighter topics. Like how there’s suffering all around the world and we’re teetering on the edge of nihilism due to our brief mortality (Fun!).
I will agree that the world we live in is certainly more than imperfect. It can be easy to get caught up in the suffering and deception frequently mentioned within the song. Even the purest things can get distorted over time if not properly cared for. And if you look at the world from a religious standpoint, one might fear that the devil is in more control of the world than God (which, in a way, is true to the religion of Christianity, which advises followers to aspire not to live the ways of this flawed world. Of course, this song goes a few extra miles with that idea and claims God has abandoned us, which doesn’t quite match up as well). Regardless of how you view the world with this song in mind, it looks like the world is deteriorating and if we don’t do anything to change it, the world will continue to deteriorate into nothingness…
The music in this song is also pretty good, the main melody has a slightly chilling feel to it and the arp works well with the drumbeat to provide a good drive to the song. My only gripe, and maybe I’m crazy (wouldn’t be the first time), is that I have this weird feeling that the arp resembles Megalovania despite predating that song by several years. It’s such an odd association and it doesn’t necessarily detract from the song regardless of whether or not the resemblance is there. I only mention it because I want to check and see if anyone else can hear what I’m saying or if I’m just crazy.
Ashbury Heights – I Paint Nightscapes (8.5): I Paint Nightscapes is about the very lowest moments in life. The moments where not only depression has a hold on you, but it’s nearly suffocating. The darkest one can go, without resorting to the less savory themes in this album (you know the ones. I’ve been complaining about their callousness for quite a while now).
Seeing as my enjoyment of the song mostly stems from the lyrics, I’m going to skip talking about the music and focus solely on vocals (not saying the music is bad, it’s just overshadowed. Even my favorite nonlyrical part of the song is the backing vocals in the chorus. Guess the piano bit in the bridge is cool too). This song, as you may have noticed from the rating, is certainly the most outstanding on the album, mostly because it actually resembles the message and tone that I love from more modern Ashbury Heights songs. Yes, it’s overall kind of depressing, which is fairly normal for Ashbury Heights. I feel like they’re best as an accompaniment to those low moments one experiences, those moments when it feels like the grip of negativity is unflinching and you’d give anything to reach a reality in which you could view your life more positively. This song truly focuses on those deepest depths of depression without actually going overboard, which if you remember from my introduction a while back in this review, is precisely why I consider Ashbury Heights to be among my favorites in the first place. This album doesn’t necessarily reflect that love, but this song definitely does.
Ashbury Heights – Eternity at an End (5.75): Eternity at an End is a great name for a closing song of an album, which is good because this is the closing song of the album. However, unfortunately, the lyric that really strikes me most here is “Long live mediocrity” and the only reason I’m pointing out that one is because it fits the whole mediocre feeling I have towards this song. Well, maybe a bit better than mediocre (as that’s my definition for a 3/5), but it does feel like it’s rather run of the mill. The tempo of the song is quite average, neither reaching those higher tempos like in Stormbringer or I Paint Nightscapes, nor the slower tempos like in Waste of Love or Cry Havoc. And while I do enjoy the arp… I always enjoy arps, The rest of the song is mostly unremarkable. I just like arps.
As for the lyrics, it’s a fairly bleak song. You can’t do anything in this mediocre world. There is no god and there is no meaning. Life is going to end and there is nothing you can do about it. Honor is dead and someday you will be too. And while it is easy to get caught in this line of thinking in this hectic world, I highly do not recommend it from experience. Because if you strip all meaning away from the world around you, what is left when even eternity ends?
Conclusion: And so, concludes the worst album of Ashbury Heights. This is one of those times where I begin to reconsider whether or not it truly is a good idea to do each discography in chronological order, but clearly, I did it because here we are. There are a few gems here and there dotted throughout the album. SmAlLeR and I Paint Nightscapes are both fantastically introspective songs. However, anything that is good in this album is cancelled out by another song that is downright awful like Swansong and Suicide Anthem.
And those awful songs really kill the album, holding it back at an average rating despite having some pretty solid songs. I believe the worst song of the album is definitely Swansong, not because of its musical quality, but because of how it paints the rest of the album. I believe that suicide is a very sensitive topic that should be handled with care and caution. The overwhelming callousness displayed in this album worries me of the possibility that someone might choose a song like Suicide Anthem as their swansong as they head to their self-inflicted death. I think I’ve made this clear several times in this review, but I feel quite strongly against suicide and while I’m sure my reach as a small blogger with giant music reviews is small, I would like to do my best to urge you to give life another shot. It can always get better even when all seems hopeless.
Final Score: (5.5/10)