Green Druid, Ashen Blood: Altar of Stone

green druid ashen blood

Green Druid are not quick to show off complexity in their debut release, Ashen Blood. If anything, just the opposite. Comprised of seven tracks and running a brazenly unmanageable 74 minutes, the full-length presents itself with a purposeful drive toward lunkheaded lumber, the plod of opener “Pale Blood Sky” pulling directly from the Sleep miieu of riff worship, thinking specifically of “The Druid” from Sleep’s Holy Mountain as a touchstone. It’s not until you dig in a bit that the complexity begins to show itself. The melodic callout to “Sweet Dreams are Made of This” early and airy solo late in “Pale Blood Sky” melting together doom and stoner impulses. The droning breadth that accompanies the tonal rumble of the subsequent “Agoraphobia.” The slow devolution into noise on the 18-minute album centerpiece “Cursed Blood” recalling Electric Wizard even as the drums of Ryan Sims stay clear in their thud as the final sustained element.

There is no shortage of low-end cinderblock-on-the-chest heft to the proceedings, as bassist Ryan Skates and guitarists Graham Zander and Chris McLaughlin (the latter also vocals) revel in the thickness of their own potent brew, but the periodically-enshrouded four-piece dig deep enough and voraciously enough into stonerism that it becomes kind of an atmosphere unto itself, not necessarily so separate at times from the murk conjured by Windhand, but definitely evolving its own direction, as the psychedelic flourish of guitar in “Rebirth” so readily puts on display. Oh, and just in case the point hasn’t yet gotten across: it’s really, really fucking heavy.

It does not seem at all like a coincidence that Green Druid have been plucked from an emergent underground in Denver, Colorado, to release Ashen Blood on Earache Records. One of heavy metal’s most historically celebrated imprints has a history of landmarks in terms of riffy fare — the aforementioned Sleep’s Holy Mountain chief among them but by no means the only one; albums from Cathedral, Iron Monkey, Fudge Tunnel, Deadbird and Hour of 13 come to mind — and even if it’s not the style for which Earache is chiefly known, Green Druid represent well the core values of modern stoner-doom idolatry, a nodder like “Dead Tree” rolling itself forward slowly but not without a fluid drive.

green druid

And surrounded as they are in their hometown by the likes of the pure onslaught of Primitive Man, the emotive doom of Khemmis, the unbridled boogie of Cloud Catcher, and so on, Green Druid succeed via the tortured string pulls and wails of “Cursed Blood” in finding a blown-out space of immersive rhythm and Iommic rollout, each righteous-for-righteousness’-sake riff helping to sculpt a niche for the band that, by the time they get around to the three-minute noise finale “Nightfall,” they’ve made their own and thoroughly dominated. Whatever it might seem to accomplish superficially, Ashen Blood proves deceptive in its ambition in displaying the band’s sheer will to overwhelm their listeners with viscous tonality, obscure shouts and jarring thud and crash. It should be considered nothing less than a joy to the already converted, and as they present their mystical lyrical themes with a bent more toward fantasy literature than cultish posturing, there’s a classic sensibility drawn from the metal of old that only makes Green Druid seem all the more human in their approach. They’re fans too. Clearly.

Four of Ashen Blood‘s seven tracks, including the knife-sharpening three-and-a-half-minute atmospheric finale “Nightfall” — not that one necessarily expected a Blind Guardian cover, but it might’ve been fun — appeared on Green Druid‘s 2015 EP, and they appear here presented in reverse order. That is, “Nightfall” opened that short release and “Cursed Blood” closed it, with “Ritual Sacrifice” and “Rebirth” in between. Forward or backward, up and down, side to side, Green Druid‘s Ashen Blood is like a long staircase down into some dark cavern that, as you go, even the torch you’re carrying — because of course you’re carrying a torch — seems to lose is light. Riffs are immersive to the point of hypnosis, the grooves varied and the ambience almost universally darkened in stretches of “Dead Tree” and the crash wash of “Ritual Sacrifice,” and none of it feels like happenstance.

If one regards “Pale Blood Sky,” “Agoraphobia” and “Dead Tree” perhaps as newer material than the four tracks that follow — and mind you, I don’t know what was written when; the album may or may not have been compiled from two EP-length releases — a narrative emerges already of creative development on the part of the band, more confident in cleaner vocal sections and showing just a tinge of The Wounded Kings-style theatricality in “Agoraphobia” while staying patient overall in their execution and turning the songs themselves into the rituals in question rather than just a means of describing same. One wouldn’t call it innovative in either its outcome or intention, but that’s not the point here so much as Green Druid establishing their place in the sphere of heavy within and without of the borders of their hometown. I’d gladly argue Ashen Blood accomplishes that, and puts out a showing of potential especially in its moments of flourish and detail that lets its listeners know the band has by no means finished growing or becoming what they will ultimately be. Yes, it’s true. Things could get even more massive from here.

Green Druid, “Dead Tree” official video

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Earache Records website

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One Response to “Green Druid, Ashen Blood: Altar of Stone”

  1. […] “And surrounded as they are in their hometown by the likes of the pure onslaught of Primitive Man, the emotive doom of Khemmis, the unbridled boogie of Cloud Catcher, and so on,” the esteemed blog continues, “GREEN DRUID succeed via the tortured string pulls and wails of ‘Cursed Blood’ in finding a blown-out space of immersive rhythm and Iommic rollout, each righteous-for-righteousness’-sake riff helping to sculpt a niche for the band that, by the time they get around to the three-minute noise finale ‘Nightfall,’ they’ve made their own and thoroughly dominated. Whatever it might seem to accomplish superficially, Ashen Blood proves deceptive in its ambition in displaying the band’s sheer will to overwhelm their listeners with viscous tonality, obscure shouts, and jarring thud and crash. It should be considered nothing less than a joy to the already converted, and as they present their mystical lyrical themes with a bent more toward fantasy literature than cultish posturing, there’s a classic sensibility drawn from the metal of old that only makes GREEN DRUID seem all the more human in their approach. They’re fans too. Clearly.” [Read the full review HERE.] […]

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