Album Review : Ashen Reach – Homecoming

Review by Peter Coates –

Released 16/11/20

A debut album to be proud of!

After a tumultuous 2019 that included support slots in Russia with Bullet For My Valentine, and some unexpected personnel changes with the loss of guitarist and vocalist, many bands would have given up the ghost and called it a day.

Not so with Ashen Reach, and 6 months later the band was back to a five-piece with Joe O’Sullivan on rhythm guitar and Kyle Martyn Stanley on the voice, joining Paddy Cummins (guitars), Jess Stanley (drums) and Mike McCarroll (bass) and recorded a couple of new tracks together, which turned out to be Prey and Tear It Down, the first two single releases from the Homecoming album.  

Describing themselves as a blend of the power and attitude of 1980’s rock music with some modern aggression and intensity from the metal scene, the band delivers pretty much on that promise, with chunky riffs, soaring vocals, and a rock solid backbone from the band.  The riff for Fighting For My Life is a cracker, and the track bounces along with some catchy backing vocals behind the powerful voice of the new frontman, with a tasty solo that may be shared between the two guitarists. As well as being fairly heavy, this is pretty catchy and commercial too.  

There is more urgency to Epiphany, and more of a nu-metal vibe to this from the guitars and vocals, with some call and response in the verse and some real atmosphere in the chorus.  Drummer Jess Stanley shows she has some real talent as she powers this one along, and there is a feel of the classic bands like Funeral For A Friend and Lost Prophets with a touch of Linkin Park and Korn in the mix. The band definitely stays true to their UK origins though without straying too far across the Atlantic, and this gives them an added sharpness in the sound.  The mid-section gives a slight reprieve before a really edgy technical guitar display that leads into a powerful close.  

Tear It Down is in the same vein, with a solid riff and some nice harmony guitar lines before a mellow verse and an impressive change of vocal style from Kyle, who has really impressed in the first three numbers. The chorus has a slightly discordant feel which really fits, and rolls into a huge multi-layered segment before the understated solo.  A really punchy and dark riff kicks off Heir To The Throne, with some more menacing vocals, a brooding bassline from Mike McCarroll, some growling and screaming that just adds a heavier feel without overpowering the track.  There is a touch of Aussie bands Karnivool and Cog in here, with some awesome anthemic backing vocals taking centre stage in the final chorus.

A totally left-field intro featuring celtic folk-metal and medieval choir leads into another intricate and epic riff, with supporting tom-tom work, and the interplay between Paddy Cummins on lead guitar and Kyle on vocals continues to impress as they work off each other.  There are some slightly experimental aspects to the track which are becoming a trademark of the Ashen Reach sound – always melodic, sometimes dark, but always dramatic and adding to the impact.  There is perhaps enough musical material mashed up in this song to make two or three others, but I love the way it all hangs together in this one piece.

The opening single from the new band line-up, Prey, has a compelling opening of voice and guitar, before the all-out aural assault as the band kicks in to set the scene.  The lyrics are nicely disturbing as well, with “an apex predator stalking his prey” as the theme.  Kyle has a deeply menacing tone to the voice which adds to the atmosphere, as does the use of the answerphone – not original but nor is out of place.  The track builds the sense of unease through the music and the vocals get more and more disturbing as it builds towards towards the crescendo.  This one is a real grower and at 7 minutes is something of an epic!

In total contrast, a fragile instrumental with a feel of that fragile 2112 segment in the Rush record, Ether provides a quick breather before the more prog-rock ballad Here I Go which features ethereal vocals, allowing drummer Jess Stanley to add an extra dimension with her voice, before launching into the meat of the track.  This is another one with so many dimensions and layers in the music and lyrics that even after 5 or 6 listens I am still hearing new elements coming to the fore.  There is some really sharp riffing in the section prior to the smooth and soaring solo which stands out.

Another delicate intro to Hole In The Sky leads into a hugely technical and off-beat song structure, with both guitars really delivering the technical progressive metal sounds backed up by the ever-tight bass and drums – this is a complex beast (Karnivool again) and the band executes this with real skill on all levels.  The light and shade, the consistent technical guitar line that provides continuity, and a ripping solo that explodes out of the mid-section.

The band explores their ultra-heavy side in Broken Column, featuring some more metal-core vocals alternating between the smooth harmonies and the heavier growls and screams, but retains the delicate interplay of guitars, and includes some impressive effects on the drums that add to the atmosphere, before the two guitarists let fly with some monstrous riffage and fretwork.  

Title-track and album closer Homecoming weighs in at a mighty 9 minutes, and has touches of nu-metal Breaking Benjamin and classic Iron Maiden in the range of rhythms and harmonies, but delivers some immense power.  Like several of the album tracks, there is a slightly predictable structure to the track……delicate atmospheric intro, balanced verse, and overblown chorus, with a change of pace in the middle, before some contrasting riffs and a solo…….however the mid-section and solo here is pure classic rock with a wonderfully pure guitar sound, before dropping back into a dark, mellow section that you know is going to explode!  It does, and it works, and the power of the chorus delivered by both guitars and the enormous voice and harmonies is jaw-dropping.

There is enough variety in this impressive debut to satisfy a broad range of musical interests, and makes for a record that displays the clear talents of all five of the band members – but that also shows a consistent and cohesive quality that suggests that Ashen Reach have settled on a style that they are all comfortable with, and allows them to explore some really interesting musical sounds and structures. 

Buy the album – or all digital outlets

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