When I finally sat down to get down to the business of writing this review I put each song on repeat separately for a number of spins while making notes on each one. That is the wrong way to listen to Without New Growth Process is Bloodshed. Astrakhan‘s latest (and last… I’ll get to that) really must be enjoyed as the album it is and not as a collection of songs. I personally believe all albums should be. But there’s a concept at work here. The long and short of it is an examination of the process of coming of age from birth to adulthood. The way children are shaped by the world around them and the realization that they can shape their own world. It’s a pretty heady concept and the deeper meaning of the lyrics could prove elusive were it not for the concept’s explanation being basically spelled out on the back cover of the LP.
It’s equally as easy for the lyrics to pass you by completely as you get lost in Astrakhan’s melodic depths while being crashed down upon by intense sludge riffs. It’s that elegant balance of power and grace that makes the band so endearing. That and the level of musicianship. Top level production helps too. Jesse Gander’s production is such that no instrument or voice is left unheard. Each player’s contribution shines as you let your focus shift from one to the next while no element loses its sharpness. It all comes together as a whole that has the ability to ensnare the heart and soul.
Throughout Astrakhan’s brief career… – wait. This is probably a good time to say that yeah, this is Astrakhan’s last album. They’re calling it a day. And breaking my heart. Also, their album release show will be their final performance. From what I understand the band has basically just run its course. These things happen with adults. Guitarists Rob Zawistowski and Adam Young are moving forward in a different band so that should be interesting. But let’s stay focused on Without New Growth Process is Bloodshed, the album at hand, with the crafty rhythm section of drummer Jerome Brewer and bassist Dustan Toth.
So, throughout Astrakhan’s brief career – three EPs and two LPs over five years – they’ve crafted epic heaviness with their combination of hard-edged sludge and progressive movements. Technical “noodlings” flavour crunchy riffing and the rock solid rhythm section. Clean and edgy vocals give their work a soul that wouldn’t exist without a voice. They would still work as an instrumental band but Rob and Dustan’s voices are part of what drew me to the band to begin with. They just take it to a totally different place.
Astrakhan display and uncanny ability to bring air to a situation then suffocate the listener the next moment without any awkward or unexpectedly jarring change. It’s all so fluid and natural even if it turns on a dime. It all makes for a very impactful experience. It flows. As stated earlier, you have to listen to it as an album. One song flows into the rest taking you on a journey of auditory discovery rendering you powerless but to follow. Musical escapism at its best.
You can see their sound reflected in their cover art. A darkness with colour that leaps toward you. Both convey care, nuance and propensity to make one really think. WNGPIB‘s art was done by Nick Patterson.
If you want some comparisons to the twisting, turning, driving, and yearning prog-sludge here you can look to fellow Van City heavyweights Anciients and Bison for their prog and sludgeness respectively. Although, Astrakhan bring more than enough of themselves to make the band clearly its own entity. Take “Process is Bloodshed” for example. You have your crunchiness. Then it’s the subtle touches. The little melodic additions to the standard that give it that extra sweetness. As always, the instrumental breaks (however brief or long), ya know, the proggy bits, are captivating in a way that a band such as Mastodon just can’t pull off anymore.
“Black Tourmaline” (adapted from a poem by Alexa Catlyn) is the most atmospheric track. It’s almost wistful in that way. Titanic riffs move into the mix and the tension between the two feels like gnashing teeth hidden behind an innocent smile.
My favourite might be “Change Begins”. Serpentine groove, a spine-softening undertone, and a definite doom feel play into the track. At times it reminds me a lot of defunct Toronto band Titan. It feels a little dirtier than most tracks on WNGPIB with the harshest vocals. It’s heartfelt and powerfully cathartic. Also, it features a couple guests in Scott Bartlett of Heron (vocals) and Emily Bach of Dirty Spells on violin bolstering the front to back quality Astrakhan delivers.
Collectively Without New Growth Process is Bloodshed is all a fan could have asked for as the band’s swansong. The album title could also be seen as related to the band’s demise. If they felt they were spinning their wheels, or at least not getting to where they wanted to be it’s all just a waste of energy, isn’t it? If you’re going to bleed for your art it at least has to be fulfilling. Or maybe I’m overthinking things.
This the part where a writer could overstate things about a band’s impact and how much they will be missed. I prefer to look at it from the perspective that first of all the band has to do what feels best for them. Secondly, embrace what they have given us. Three EPs leading to debut LP Reward in Purpose and now Process is Bloodshed. They will always be there. I’m not going to miss a thing. Astrakhan made enough impactful music to leave a continual impression. At least for me. Thanks, and cheers!
If you made it this far and you still haven’t checked out Astrakhan, what are you waiting for? At least you know you’ll be able to catch up. If you’re close enough you could even catch them sign off with Anciients, BRASS, and Empress Saturday, February 10 at Astoria Hastings in Vancouver.
Astrakhan on Bandcamp (February 1, 2018 release)