Combining elements of dark moods, neo-classical, folk, ethereal and gothic music, Unto Ashes is one of the many diverse groups found on the Projekt label. The band formed originally in 1997 with Michael Laird and Susanna Melendez. Later, more people joined the group and several have left since the initial band was formed. Currently Michael remains the anchor for this group though each release includes a number of excellent guest musicians or vocalists. Each guest contributes to the band with their own varied talents creating well-rounded compositions. The group is able to release great albums about every 2 years starting with Moon Oppose Moon released in 1999 and then reissued by Projekt Records the next year. With the release of Saturn Return they ventured further into the realms of gothic music and brought us another nice treat for music lovers. After another normal two-year wait, we were presented with yet a third full-length album Empty Into White. Continuing to evolve and release music, this dynamic group later released the dark and mysterious maxi I Cover You With Blood as the single from the previous album. 2005 also brought us their masterpiece Grave Blessings which continued to expand their musical style while remaining true to their roots. Working harder than ever and in addition to several live performances and tours in different parts of the world, 2006 saw the release of Songs For A Widow which delves into the deeper and darker experimental moods yet still presenting solid, easily recognizable Unto Ashes pieces.
This group of artists continues to please dark music fans with each new release. Their 2009 work is the dark folk album The Blood of My Lady where Michael takes the lead on the vocals and shows his many talents coupled with that of the numerous guests that appear once again. They manage to pull together their unique talents, mysterious lyrics and music for a nice treat for fans. 2012 brought us a new album of dark and moody folk music in the form of Burials Foretold, reuniting many past guests and band members. And once again, after a couple more years we have another album, this one something of a treat presenting all of the covers they've done over the years also coupled with new additions. Each new album is a captivating piece of art varying slightly and always presenting new and interesting material. Fans of this mysterious Gothic and Ethereal music will always find a nice treat with selections on both Gothic Paradise Radio shows. Be sure to listen.
Ghosts Captured - Review
The feat that this band pulls off with each release is amazing. They way they capture the same dark and medieval flare in all of their tracks and all of the band's incarnations over the years is great. This album is a true testament to the talent and creativity that Michael and all of his guests and band members have contributed over the years. As they capture fifteen years worth of cover versions that they've recorded in the past and also including new creations for this album. With the bonus tracks we have 90 minutes of music across 25 amazing cover tracks.
It's hard to know where to even start with a review of this album. We can't possibly cover all 25 selections here, so I'll try to just summarize and touch on my thoughts on the album overall and highlight a few of the new favorites. As previously mentioned, it's amazing you can so easily tell on each track that this is definitely Unto Ashes. Despite the diverse source material ranging from classic icons like New Order, Christian Death, Sisters of Mercy and Current 93 to including covers from New Order, Covenant, Depeche Mode, The Cure and even Van Halen. Many of these tracks we've heard and enjoyed on past releases which have become quick favorites of mine and our readers and listeners such as the covers of "Don't Fear the Reaper", "Kathy's Song", "Palestinalied", "The Drowning Man" and "One World One Sky". While the songs are easily recognized if the listener is familiar with the original, I find it interesting how they then put that medieval twist on them. I used to mix the two versions of "One World One Sky" as a DJ and had a lot of fun with that mash-up and others could be done as well.
As far as new or unfamiliar covers that I hadn't heard before this release, there are some good outstanding pieces as well. It was interesting to hear the obscure track "The Him" from New Order covered with upbeat rhythms and percussion while still maintaining that classic sound. The cover of "Cavity (1st Communion)" from Christian Death is one of the most modern and gothic rock sounding tracks from this band, including heavy rock drums instead of the medieval percussion we normally hear from this group making this one of the most diverse track from this band. The album drifts along softly into "The Cursing Song" from Current 93, presented with female vocals in a softer, classic ethereal folk style fans of the softer side of this project can really enjoy. The cover of Tori Amos' short track "Beauty Queen" is another great example of this more beautiful ethereal side of the band. As we get to Van Halen's track "Runnin' With The Devil" it just doesn't surprise me anymore the different takes on the original we're presented with. This one is presented as a beautiful downtempo, medieval piece with soft female vocals for a nice ethereal touch. This fades directly into another favorite piece on this album with "The Birds Are Dying" from Paul Leary / Butthole Surfers. With the heavy cello and other strings we're presented with a dark neo-classical sound on this piece with soft duet vocals for a real treat.
While there are many more noteworthy tracks, I believe that gives the reader a good taste of what we're presented on this album. A great diversity for fans of many genres new and old spanning several decades and genres from new wave, punk, gothic and rock. The music blends and mixes well and is presented as only Unto Ashes can do. Fans will definitely want this album to add to their collection of great music.
Burials Foretold - Review
Once again we're treated with another set of dark folk tracks from Michael Laird reunited with Erica, Natalia and others for this latest studio album. On this work we are presented with 15 impressive tracks including a couple of unique covers and various renditions on classic poetry and other sources including those by Michael himself.
For those familiar with this project, it's not too hard to describe and relate this band's unique take on all of these various lyrics. To start off the album, it's a dark dirge with "Burials Foretold", very short, but presenting the mood for this album. For a minute "Pilzentanz" picks up the pace and the mood a little bit yet the vocal styles keep the track grounded in a dark, medieval style. As the album progresses, the haunting mood continues through various tracks, some dark and brooding and at times more on the ethereal side. Within these tracks there are several favorites that stand out such as "She Binds Away The Night" which listeners should already be familiar with as we've been playing it for quite some time. "I Remember Happiness" moves along smoothly with dripping emotion and longing all portrayed through somber vocals and soft strings and guitar. The funeral dirge style is strong on several pieces including "Young Men Leave For Battles Unknown". This style remains very prominent on the album going along well with the thematic approach of the title of "Burials Foretold".
For those that enjoy the softer, ethereal side of things we have some definite treats here on this album as well. A track that really stands out is the incredible cover of "Kathy's Song" in a very soft, angelic, ethereal style. As this project has covered a number of very different pieces over the years, this is another great version we can really enjoy. Along the theme of covers, another that some might recognize is "Running With The Devil", a classic Van Halen track from the 80's. Again, this is done as only Unto Ashes can pull off with excellent medieval styles.
Overall this is a great album with really a lot of diverse material here and a lot of great pieces. This stands out as another great album from this project as they manage to take all the different lyrics, compositions, instruments, etc. and combine them all into a dark, sometimes beautiful masterpiece. Definitely recommended for old and new fans alike.
The Blood Of My Lady - Review
Michael Laird keeps going strong with this latest album, marking over a decade of music and six solid full-length albums. This latest work drifts away from some of the previous albums in that it settles more into a single genre rather than such a broad range as before, concentrating on the dark folk sound. We're presented with a simple package and thirteen outstanding pieces.
From the beginning of the album we're taken right into the all acoustic approach to this album in it's dark folk style with the first version of the title track. This piece is very simple with acoustic guitar and Michael's vocals. A second version of this piece appears later with Kim Larsen taking on the task of the vocals and a little different rhythm and overall mood. These two piece show the simple and minimal style on this album, but shows how sometimes less can be more in terms of style and quality. There are many other very simple, yet stunning pieces such as "The Tomb of Your Remains" which is all performed by cello and is absolutely captivating.
Breaking out of the simple minimalistic mold are many other pieces though they still remain equally captivating and in that dark folk realm. "Who Has Seen The Wind" start out very simple but gradually builds with various levels of vocal harmonies, the addition of hurdy gurdy and other instruments that make the repetative vocals come alive. This builds to a haunting mix that continues on in other pieces, such as the haunting "Vengeance" with it's harmonized male and female vocals (which has just the right touch without taking the pieces into an ethereal realm). But growing darker and more haunting is "I Will Lead You Down" with everything from the vocals to the music all making the mood and intent clear. While this is probably the darkest of pieces on the album, there are many more that are no less haunting.
Pieces that stand out against the standard dark folk style include the up-beat german march similar to what you might hear from Qntal, Deine Lakaien or Helium Vola, is "Echos In Den Wald". They also put together a medieval dirge version of "Fly on the Windscreen" which comes out remarkably well and something I can appreciate even as a Depeche Mode fan. "Our Palace of Ice" is one of the few (or only) pieces that a synthesizer is used on this album amidst all of the acoustic instruments and still remains equally haunting as the other instrumental pieces or otherwise. And to finalize the album after the second version of the title track is the dark yet beautiful piano solo "She Is Everywhere And Nowhere". As a classically trained pianist, pieces like these stand out in their simple classic ageless beauty and provide the perfect ending for this stunning album.
Songs for a Widow - Review
As I've gone back and read through reviews of past works on this page I begin to realize how legendary this group is starting to become. Look back over their history and recent touring schedule and you start to catch a glimpse of how this band has grown over the years. This disc is a perfect example of all that the band has become in a few short years after so many solid releases. The packaging is what can be expected with lyrics, credits and some nice artwork on the cover. But as usual, it's the music on the disc that we're really interested in, and this disc contains fifteen stellar pieces that fans will love.
Making a perfect start to the album is "One World (Funeral" a short, slower version of their cover of this track put to the drums of a military funeral march. I'll revisit this track again towards the end of this review. "My Lord is Born" is a nice short piece with Michael taking the lead on vocals, presented in the somber style of old-world melancholy cantiques. This gives way to "Convivio" which is a female fronted track with a bit more of a middle-eastern style to it, upbeat and dance-friendly.
"Intacta Sum" serves as a natural break in the album, being a slow, somber piece and providing a nice segue to the beautiful instrumental "The Snow Leopard". This work drifts into a dark and moody atmosphere as the cello and violins are added. "You Will Never Know" is definitely a favorite on this disc as it starts out with angelic vocals and then delves into the dark moods with the addition of Michael's "sinister" distorted vocals and added electric guitar and crashing percussion. Rather than being overly dark and sinister, the overall feeling actually becomes one of angst and longing, tugging at the deepest emotions.
"Dream of the Rood" provides another interlude as a soft little instrumental piece with psychadelic atmospheres. The arrangement of selection of songs comes together so well and the transition into "The Life of this World" is a nice example. This somber piece has Michael again on vocals with backing angelic chorus that launches the listener into an ancient or mystical fairyworld. "Intermezzo", as unique as it is, being a reproduction of an old piece on an old record player even fits nicely before giving way to the harshness of "Drei Todesarten". This edgy piece adds some electric guitar and moving rhythms, though the female vocals soften it just a touch. At last we're brought to the title track which is as can be imagined a dark, moody, slowly dredging piece with a military percussion line and somber vocals. "Occupying Force" has beautiful siren-like vocals soaring over chanting, occasional percussion with a soft guitar accompaniment.
At this point we're brought to the finale of the album in the form of these three final tracks. "I Am Untouched" is really "Intacta Sum" remixed with a soft, moving techno beat and some added electronics. "In Memoriam Robert Luscombe" is a short angelic piece which leaves us with the climax and grand finale to the album. Maybe I appreciate this cover of Covenant's classic anthem as a club DJ more than many others, but this rendition of "One World One Sky" is an excellent cover done as only Unto Ashes could do. As a DJ I've had a lot of fun with this track doing mash-ups and remixes with the original from Covenant.
That wraps up the album and my review. Hopefully the reader can get a sense of the dynamic power, raw emotions and unique compositions of this disc and won't hesitate to go out and pick it up.
Grave Blessings - Review
Each new album we're presented with from these artists is an interesting twist and something to look forward to. This latest album is no exception and provides another excellent work for fans to pick up. Like previous releases it's interesting to thumb through the liner notes and read through the lyrics, guest musicians, credits and wide variety of instruments used to compose the music.
The album contains fifteen excellent tracks spanning a range of gothic / ethereal styles from medieval, dark folk and neo-classical. Along with these general styles, the moods span from ethereal beauty to dark, brooding and mysterious. It all starts off with an ominous french horn, 13th century lyrics and the enchanting female vocals we've grown to love on so many selections from this group. The album progresses through the various styles described above including an excellent exclusive piece written and performed by these artists titled "Winter Born". On this one all three regular members contribute their vocal talents for a nice harmonized approach.
These two tracks are just the beginning as we move through an incredibly diverse piece "Tortured by Rose Thorns". It starts off with somber acoustic guitar that gives way to an array of bombastic music, beautiful soprano and alto vocals and mix of distorted spooky vocals that really adds an interesting twist. The album moves on including one excellent piece after another. Special treats include their excellent cover of "The Drowning Man", wonderful rendition of "Fruhling" and my favorite dreamy tracks "Emptiness" and "If I Come To You". Of course there's the array of downright spooky music including the finale "Banishment Spell".
This wraps up the album and it's another great one that fans can latch onto without hesitation. The music just keeps progressing, they manage to pull everything together so well with each new album. Highly recommended.
I Cover You With Blood - Review
Not long ago the press release came out for this maxi with the introduction: "To appease Unto Ashes' long-suffering fans in Europe and the United States, Projekt is honored to present Unto Ashes' I Cover You With Blood (Pro153), a highly compelling, blood-lit six-song maxi-CD featuring five unreleased tracks / mixes."
I think this is the perfect introduction to this six-track CD. From the Empty Into White album comes the original version of the title track with it's dark and morbid lyrics and trademark style. Add to this excellent track more percussion with a steady beat and you have the "Wounds Mix" of this track. This is a nice take on this track adding more of a dancey rhythm to it. Also presented is a remix of the popular club track "Serve Me" with the "Ochun Mix". I have to admit that at first listen I didn't notice much difference between this and the original. But I sat down with a nice stereo system and the extras just kind of jumped out at me with some harmonized vocals and additional layering that are subtle but well presented.
Other extra tracks on this maxi are real treats. Many people will recognize the medieval lament "Palestinalied" that QNTAL has also produced a rendition of. Unto Ashes' version is also superb, bringing out a definite medieval feeling with the beautiful instruments and vocals. I think this group really does their research when it comes to authentic instruments and sounds. The rendition of "Funeral March for Queen Mary" also portrays these authentic sounds as well as the final track "Exeunt Reges", which is an original composition by this talented group. The subtle layers of various instruments bring this track to life in a solid and menacing style with beautiful instruments and bombastic percussion.
The full-length albums released by this group are always a treat and this maxi takes previous works a step beyond with these extras. Definitely a "must-have" for fans.
Empty Into White - Review
This quartet has presented us with their third album and I venture to say most original and unique album to date. Just by opening the booklet and reading the instruments included is an adventure in itself. With the likes of the Hammered Dulcimer, Hurdy Gurdy and Persian Saz, it's easy to see how such an authentic, yet uniquely blended music can be produced.
Each song on this album takes me into a mysterious land of superstition mixed with apocalyptic folk and tales of love and sadness. "C'y Commence Le Jeu" is the perfect intro to this captivating album with it's graceful music that drags you into a dark and moody world. The "Spider Song" is definitely one of these morbidly spellbinding songs with the smooth female vocals and traditional instruments mixed with percussion and synth that hold you ensnared as the listener.
Among these excellent songs full of great lyrics and nice vocals varying between male and female (Michael, Ericah and Natalia on backing vocasl), there is also a plethorah of great instrumentals. These include the more traditional sounding "Bathsheba Writhing" and the moving "Persephone, Queen of the Underworld" with it's more noticeable percussion and Persian musical styles. The title track is another of these great instrumentals, this one being more of an experimental dark ambient noise piece. This definitely sets the mood for the latter half of the album continuing on with two more instrumentals "Heralds of War" and "1914".
Interesting inclusions on this album worth noting include the traditional Texas folksong "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie" that I remember singing in grade school. Others are the cover of the Tori Amos track "Beauty Queen" and The Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper". Fans who already enjoy Unto Ashes should rush out and pick up this album. It's another great musical journey you won't want to miss. Others new to their style and music should pick it up if they're familiar and enjoy music by Dead Can Dance, Rajna or other similar groups, but be prepared for a more mystical sound than you have experienced before.
Saturn Return - Review
Combining elements of dark moods, neo-classical, folk, ethereal and gothic music, Unto Ashes is one of the many diverse groups found on the Projekt label. Having just released their second full-length album, they have made an impression on the gothic world in a total span of about two years. If you've never heard Unto Ashes and you pick up this album and look at the cover art, just think of a soundtrack that goes with this art. The art and sound fit perfectly. Both are beautiful, both are moody, both eminate a dark and forboding feeling like something out of the medieval ages.
The album begins with the perfect introduction with "Morte O Merce". It combines all of the above elements into a wonderful soundscape that captivates you for the duration of the album. "Sonnet 87 (When As Man's Life)" features Michael with the vocals and a beautifully written acoustic guitar piece, combined with a wonderful Cello arrangement. There are many wonderful features on this album. Some of the highlights for me are the previous two tracks I've already mentioned as well as "Ein Fluch (Curse)" with the beautiful female vocals and instruments. "Glass" is another favorite for many of the same captivating reasons. "Ostia (The Death of Pasolini)", which they give credit to Coil, is very interesting in it's dark, somber way.
Many other tracks are captivating and beautiful, but I will leave it up to the reader and listener to form their own opinion about them. A very interesting group indeed. Combining so many elements and styles of music into the lush soundscape described above, they've managed to pull it all together into another great album. I highly recommend this album if you enjoyed their first album or if you enjoy any of the dark, gothic ethereal groups that release similar music.
Label: Projekt Records