Alder & Ash is the recording project of Adrian Copeland from Montreal, who has not one but two new albums out on Lost Tribe Sound, home to similarly grand and expansive artists such as William Ryan Fritch and Seabuckthorn. Today I’m going to focus on one of said albums, Clutched in the Maw of the World, because these aren’t the kind of albums you can review two at a time.
Copeland’s main tool is a cello, which, with the help of a loop pedal, paints pictures that are vividly affecting. The music of Alder & Ash is strongly influenced by the natural world, and brings with it all of the beauty, complexity and horror that can be found in nature. As the bio on his Bandcamp page states, “Alder & Ash is a counterpoint of two extremes. The music lies in stillness, introversion, and penitence. It lies in violence, cacophony, and angst.”
The entirety of Clutched in the Maw of the World has this balanced atmosphere, from the quiet beginning of ‘The Merciless Dusk’, with its stark and sombre cello like a breeze on some distant North Sea shore, to the ominous ‘A Seat Amongst God and His Children’, which begins with vaguely martial percussion, joined soon by the same wheezing cello. But things take a turn for the strange before too long, the instrumentation blown-out and distorted, moving from ominous to downright unsettling, like the manic brain patterns of some volatile and war-crazed leader.
This is a recurring pattern with Alder & Ash. Like much of the Lost Tribe catalogue, their music is undeniably atmospheric, with a widescreen, cinematic feel, but this is not just some soundtrack to rugged vistas. Yes, on the surface it’s stark and elemental, as old as the landscapes that inspire it, but it becomes quickly apparent that it’s weirder than that. There are as many nods to experimental drone and doom metal as there are to classical convention. Think Warren Ellis meets Colin Stetson, beauty and abrasion laying side by side. This is neoclassical aimed through the prism of a fever dream, like an anthem for some ancient Nordic race.
‘The Great Plains of Dust’ is a great example of this, the reverberating march of its percussion like some terrible army approaching mirage-like on the horizon. This ominous pursuit falls away in the middle section, a period of quiet paranoia, the guitar a mere scorpion scuttle. ‘Seeds of a Sallow Earth’ is altogether more reserved, while ‘The Merciful Dawn’ winds and wends like a cool wind across a blue-grey morning. The final track ‘The Glisten, The Glow’ again lacks the harsher edges of some songs, instead closing proceedings with a sense of grandiose melancholy, like viewing a scene of apocalyptic ruin dappled in dewdrops and moonlight. It’s a fitting end to a big, complex and challenging album, one where wonder and dismay stand side by side, and where beauty is always present, even in the strangest and stormiest moments.
You can get Clutched in the Maw of the World via Lost Tribe Sound and from the Alder & Ash Bandcamp page. It’s available as a download or limited edition handcrafted CD, which can be bought in a bundle with the other Alder & Ash album, Psalms for the Surrender. If two albums aren’t enough, consider joining the Lost Tribe Sound subscription series, A Prelude to Decline, which will get you discounted prices and all kinds of other goodies.