Artist: The Willow
Album: Ashen Queen – EP
She calls your names, embers on her breath—tingling the pinna of your ear, singing the delicate and small hairs that line your auditory canal. She lights a fire in your mind that spreads to your soul, searing herself into every strand and segment of your essence. She becomes synonymous with you, working her way into her life until you can’t recall a time where she wasn’t one with you.
And then she burns it all down.
Like the spark in your heart that she was born as, she ends as a pile of aborted flame; the downtrodden and sullen remains of everything you cared about and loved. She is the Ashen Queen, the absolutely incinerating debut EP by ruthlessly aggressive, genre-bending newcomers The Willow, and while their name might imply peace, harmony and tranquility, the only thing waiting for the listener within Ashen Queen’s crushing twenty minutes is scalding, searing, simmering intensity in the form of furious heaviness, riff-driven energy and eerie, atmospheric and ambient ethereality, providing stark contrast between the jarring, quick-and-pissed metallic aspects and the disconcerting, devious and devilish moments of blackened, blistered, brooding gloom.
The Willow draw from a sprawling repertoire of influences to create something gruesome and gritty, yet wonderfully polished and gleaming with lethal intensity. Ashen Queen is a hefty amalgam of hectic hardcore, gnashing and gnawing nu-metal, blackened and doom metals both with powerful moments of raw, traditional metalcore punch. Percussionist Jacob Koval sets the pace for every track—with the atmospheric and lofty introduction in “The Witch,” to the heavier and harder-hitting songs “Dogma” and “Horrorscope” and more balanced songs like “What You Find in the Woods.” The latter especially finds Koval oscillating between quick, peppy patterns and slow, lurid, jaw-dropping beats with snare hits as bright and piercing as gunfire, beautifully contrasting the mirk and grit of Chandler Crane’s crushing bass. Crane’s role is, as many bassists in heavier outfits, largely integral with little opportunity to show off or steal the show. However, Crane does his part perfectly, providing a beefy and thick low end without which Ashen Queen would teeter and topple. “Horrorscope,” perhaps the most balls-to-the-wall heavy track on the album, sees Crane in all his glory, working percussionist Koval to obliterate everything in their collective paths. But where things are dark with the consideration of Koval and Crane’s dynamic, girthy low end, they become truly dismal with the incorporation of guitarists Juan Torres and Aaron Riberal. Torres and Riberal are positively ruthless; combining relentless riffs like those on “Dogma” with moments of bone-splintering heaviness found within “Horrorscope” and “The Rite,” only for it to all come full circle on the album’s closing and titular track, “Ashen Queen.” Together, this quartet are an instrumental force to be reckoned with, drawing remarkable influence from elements as diverse as beatdown-infused hardcore to funeral-laced doom and black metals—with scalding riffs, suffocating, dark atmosphere and devastating heaviness all in one dialectic package.
Where The Willow’s instrumentation is a truly unique amalgam of crushing power and blistering, scathing hatred, the band’s vocal element follows. Frontman Travis Worland (also of renowned heavy hardcore infused deathcore act Mara) brings a candor and energy combined with possessed, demented penchant for storytelling to Ashen Queen that is nearly impossible to describe. Imagine a bizarre combination between Storm Strope’s work on The Last Ten Seconds of Life’s Invivo [Exvivo] combined with splashes of Darius Tehrani of SPITE (who makes an appearance on “Horrorscope,” for good measure) and KING 810’s David Gunn (especially throughout “What You Find in the Woods”). Have a good picture? Now toss it in a blender add some Californian heat to it. You’ve got Worland’s work on The Willow’s debut. With growls and roars that dive into gritty screeches and gruff mid-range yells both, Worland’s vocals are as demonically tinted as his lyrical content, which ranges from hyperaggressive to bitter and laden with self-loathing. “Horroscope” is positively relentless in this respect, whereas songs like “What You Find in the Woods” and “Ashen Queen” are more introspective in their intensity. No matter the track, however, there’s no questioning it: Worland’s vocal dynamics throughout the EP are chief among the reasons it is such a unique and engaging listen.
A scintillating tour of metal-infused heaviness that singes your soul and sears your brain, Ashen Queen is a poison that infects your ears in the best way possible. Heavy, groovy, riff-packed and dismal where it needs to be, Ashen Queen is an EP that appeals to fans of just about anything that hits hard but moves swiftly and gracefully—even in spite of it being weighed down by metric tons of grime. Conceptual and crushing from start to finish, The Willow’s breakout EP is exactly what you Hope you find in the woods—even if it means that it finds you first.
For Fans Of: The Last Ten Seconds of Life, Wicked World, Mara, SPITE, Dark Throne, King 810
By: Connor Welsh