⭐ ⭐ / ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The strange experience that is Asta Roth is not for everyone. The singer/songwriter/musician/producer etc (real name unknown) is a one man band, probably because no one else is capable of participating in his singular vision. With music that touches on baroque, opera, freeform, Ars Nova, serialism, totalism and every dark corner in between, listening to Asta Roth is going into cryo-stasis on a deepsea dive. Or spinning headlong into the folds of eternity in a rocket powered time machine. In both cases you will feel so far outside your realm of experience that any points of reference are hopelessly jettisoned. Hold on tight.
Not that it’s always a welcome feeling. Or often a pleasant one. The music on this record is dark. Very dark. Even when the chord progressions are upbeat and the instrumentation light, Roth’s vocals sear and burn. Like a Wagnerian drill sergeant’s megaphone howl dissolving in a vat of acid, the impressive yet imposing voice cuts deep. It throws you off balance, genuflecting one moment and disemboweling the next. An incredible range allows him to soar and burrow into and around your eardrums like an eagle or a buzzsaw. Some sections are sung in what sounds like an extant language. Or maybe it’s an invented one.
Opening with the sparsely delicate “Ohr,” this self titled second album from Asta Roth leans less on 18th century classical motifs and found-sound samples than his 2020 debut Inanna. This time out there is a balance of the acoustic and the electronic, although handmade instruments continue to evoke and mystify as they did on tracks like that record’s “Pseudepigrapha.” Reverb washed shouts and dry as dust growls pummel and jab in unseemly concert. Droning strings support barking horns while pitched amplifier feedback screams blister the ambient audioscapes.
“The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew” rolls along a militant timpani backbone while horns and pipe organ repeat minor key scales in disharmonious counterpoint. Out of sync handclaps and footstomps keep the listener from finding a perch during “Qliphoth and Sefirot” while cymbal swells and atonal chanting form uncomfortable layers that build toward a drawn out symphony of noisy hand percussion.
A cacophony of voices, some pitch shifted, build and then demolish walls of sound in “Lemegeton.” Triple tracked vocals screech and wail for “Dictionnaire Infernal” and while knowing they’re intentionally off-pitch doesn’t make them any easier to listen to. Most of the album’s lyrics may be indecipherable but the raw emotion driving them is unmistakable. Someone or something hurt this man and he’s balancing the scales in his own, very personal way.
Closing track “New Atlantis” promises calming respite but seven plus minutes of ethereal whispering over one chord is pushing it. An acquired taste? More like a high tolerance for suffering.
When you name yourself after a demon it’s to be expected that you will indulge the darkness. Even revel in it. There’s very little celebration here, though. Songs seem disjointed and abstract with unconventional arrangements as if their elements were cut into confetti and stuck back together at random. One song hasn’t ended before the next one begins, their rhythms and melodies merging. Or maybe the entire album is an aural puzzle with one song’s chorus over there and another’s verses here. Maybe it’s a whole lot more clever than it appears at first listen. But it would take a braver listener than this one to have the will to subject themselves to it all again.