Recently I picked up Asva‘s sophomore effort, titled “What You Don’t Know is Frontier,” a title that immediately conjures some of the borderline/post colonialism theory written by Anzaldua, Said, and Spivak. And interestingly, the “sound” of this album’s four, thirteen-minute plus tracks would fit quite well with what each of these theorists would label as “other” or “foreign” as defined by the “subject’s” positionality, or in this case the listener. Without turning this lowly album review into a rehash of contemporary post-colonial theory, let me just say that this LP ain’t pop music. It’s slow, heavy, has sparse female vocals intertwined with window-rattling guitar drones spiralling around “ethnic” flurries. When I first got a hold of it I assumed it would be a lesser rip-off of SUNN O)))’s work–not true.
I thought that the album might be a rip-off because the bass player, G. Stuart Dalquist, hails from SUNN O))), Goatsnake, and Burning Witch, both Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley projects. My assumption here wasn’t based on the rest of the lineup, however. The band also has members from Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, and even pioneering drone masters, Earth. What Asva does that separates them from the likes of SUNN O))) and Earth is they combine all the good parts of each. They plod through groove-inducing, and slow riffs that methodically unravel into emotional highs and deep lows, and then they are able to orchestrate movements between the slothful slow parts to create cinematically inspired pieces that are somewhat akin to Earth, yet are more diverse in the progression and execution. As the mix together the deeply down-tuned and the ethereal, Asva create a composition of dolor-inducing scope that easily coexists with contemporary drone masters.
Asva uses many disparate yet innovative tools to effect their work. Of course, they use slow and repetitious power chords to great effect, but they also use drums sparingly and distant vocals in tandem with feedback-heavy sequels and blurps, some organ and keys, and delay-heavy clean guitars. It’s the clean guitars that provide a key element that sets this album apart from other drone discs. Instead of having a disc that equates to putting your head on a slow idling diesel motor, “What You Don’t Know…” provides as much uplift as it does descent, as much dolor as pleasure, and so on; the album provides a constant and tentative balance of elements creating a wonderful exposition of tension and release.
These guys reside within drone’s roots, yet the still are able to keep the listener interested in the track by creating a droning, yet dynamic piece. One of my favorites, “Christopher Columbus,” which slowly undulates for around 10minutes, then something quite scary happens. After what seems like hours of vibrations, the drums begin to act up. At the 10:52 minutes mark we get a slow vibrating guitar riff, slowly, rising towards a fear inducing crescendo. It rings out and releases you from the catatonic state the first part of the song slides you into, then just stops, torturing you more.
“A Game in Hell, Hard Work in Heaven’ starts almost pleasantly, especially after the ending of “Christopher Columbus.” But this track builds slowly, using beautiful vocals, and well timed exploding lyrics for well over twelve minutes to deliver a thoroughly calculated explosive climax at the twelve-and-a-half-minute mark. Likewise, “A trap for judges” is comprised of sets of slow explosions, then uses an organ for a slow resolution or “cool down.” The album easily sits among some of Earth’s and SUN O)))’s better output, but will probably not get close to the listernship that either band enjoys.
Here’s a fine example of Asva playing live. This clip is from a show in Vienna, July 18, 2008.