Ashtar’s highly recommended début album Ilmasaari successfully treads the line between occult Doom and Blackened vitriol; a 46 minute ritual that will leave you begging and gasping for more. I decided to find out a bit more about the creative force behind the band…
For those who are unfamiliar with your band – introduce yourself!
Marko: We are a duo from Basel, Switzerland, playing some kind of blackened sludge doom. Before forming the band, Witch N. was the bassist of the female doom band shEver, I am the drummer of the space doom band Phased. We met for the first time when these bands played together four years ago.
Give us a bit of history to Ashtar
Marko: We started to rehearse in 2012. Witch N. played the guitar and I sat behind my drums. Like that we developed some first ideas but didn’t really know where the way would lead us. We knew we wanted to stay a duo though. After a while we had some songs together and recorded them between December 2013 and April 2014 in a studio in Greifensee, Switzerland. It was the studio of a guy called Mäthe Imboden who’s very much into the Zurich black metal scene and friend of bands like Bölzer. We played all the instruments on our own. That means: We started with the drums and rhythm guitar riffs as basics and recorded the bass, growls, clean vocals and lead guitars as overdubs. Later Greg Chandler of Esoteric, whom shEver had already worked with, mixed and mastered the album in his studio in Birmingham. And in January 2015 we played our first gig with two guest guitarists.
What are your influences?
Marko: We love the modern intellectual metal bands that mix black metal and doom. Many of them come from France or Finland.
Witch N.: I am constantly trying to discover new underground bands in the sphere of sludge, black and doom although I was a bit neglectful recently… I’d like to mention Laster, Atriarch, Portal, Altar Of Plagues, Sea Bastard, Inter Arma or Bastard Sapling. Besides I do listen to older bands like The Chameleons, The Jesus And Mary Chain or Samhain.
Marko: I also listen to a lot of music that doesn’t sound like Ashtar at all: 70’s prog, kraut, shoegaze, 80’s new wave, modern jazz. It’s difficult to recommend something particular at the moment – well, I always go for Pentagram.
What did you want to achieve with your new album?
Marko: Nothing particular, actually. We just wanted to play other parts in a band than we had before as bassist and drummer. We wanted to do a record with our own songs and play all the instruments on our own. We just felt the need to do our own thing finally.
Are you happy with how it turned out?
Marko: Yes, we are very happy with it. Most of all it wasn’t self-evident for us that the guitars would work that well because they’re not our main instrument. I mean, of course you could always do something better or different if you listen to a record afterwards, but at some point you just have to let loose and hope it still feels good later. And we think it does. It does have a dark atmosphere that spreads through the whole album.
What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
Witch N.: I honestly like all of our six songs, but if I had to decide I would say «Des siècles qui éternellement séparent le corps mortel de mon âme». It’s the most personal song regarding the lyrics, and from the musical approach it starts as the most «black metal» song and then develops into the most representative song for the music of Ashtar. And last but not least: It’s great to scream and growl in French!
Marko: My favourite song is «Celestial» because of its many mood and rhythm changes and because I’m particularly happy with my guitar work in the second part of the song. But I think every song on «Ilmasaari» has it’s own character. So I really like all of them.
What can you tell us about the lyrics?
Witch N.: Generally I do not like to analyse my own words – the listener should be as free and unprejudiced as possible. For sure I don’t want to tell a story with my lyrics, I’d rather want them to be some sort of poems. I see them as an addition to the musical atmosphere, even though I write my lyrics without listening to the specific song. I try to create a special feeling, mood or vibe, to draw a certain picture.
Give us a bit of information on the songwriting process.
Witch N.: The songs on «Ilmasaari» emerged from one or two riffs and jams in the rehearsal room. We always knew quite quickly if a riff had the potential to become a song or not. When a song developed we defined the structures and recorded it as a basis with one guitar, drums and lead vocals. At home, we listened to the recording and tried to add some bass lines, more guitars and vocals. The songs were not completely finished when we entered the studio though – «Celestial» for example developed mostly in the studio. That it turned out to be one of the most intense songs of the album was the proof for us that spontaneous creativity worked very well!
How do you see your songs/direction developing in the future?
Marko: We have no idea because we never plan where we’re going musically. We don’t say: Now we want to sound like Glorior Belli or whoever. We just play and see what happens next.
And what’s next for Ashtar?
Marko: After the release of the CD and tape version of «Ilmasaari» on June 8 we wait for the vinyl to come out in early autumn. And then we plan to tour in winter and spring.
Ashtar play music that incorporates elements of Black Metal, Doom and Sludge. I do love a bit of Blackened Doom, and if you’ve been keeping up with the likes of Usnea, Mourning Pyre, Atriarch and Upyr then Ashtar should be your cup of tea too.
Even though the album cover screams Classic Doom, Ashtar’s musical aesthetic is more on the Black Metal side of things. Aspects of Classic Doom do make it into their sound, but these have been Blackened and corrupted into the sickening Sludge mass that they are now.
The vocals are mainly Blackened shrieks that seem to scratch at the back of your eyes like something unclean that wants to come into our world. The singer seems to have a knack for this kind of malevolent rasp, although she does occasionally use her voice in a few other ways throughout these six tracks.
The songs are bleak and sobering glimpses into the mindset of their creators. There are enough riffs and quality guitar lines here to keep anyone satisfied, but Ashtar are primarily about the mood and atmosphere that they create with their chosen medium.
The band are a duo and as such the music is relatively minimalistic, however it rapidly seems to expand to fill a large amount of space with its gloominess and it never seems like you’re listening to anything other than a full band. This is especially true when they incorporate additional sounds and instrumentation into their songs to further deepen the atmosphere.
There’s something extremely satisfying about this release. From the occult feelings to the Blackened bile; from the Doom aura to the impressive riffs; Ashtar have crafted a release that will appeal to the darkness inside.