For many years I’ve enjoyed the ancient doom folk of Unto Ashes. Each album usually has a slight twist on a theme. Often an album will showcase a few instruments as standouts such as the hammered dulcimer, pipe organs, hurdy-gurdy or string arrangements. Returning after their covers album with new material for the first time in many years, Unto Ashes continue to wow and intrigue.
‘Pretty Haunted Things’ features the zither as its main instrument of choice. It’s open, sliding strums are unmistakable and can be heard across many of the tracks on the album. The album has a very plucked tone throughout. When zithers aren’t at the fore it’s left to guitars and hammered dulcimers to lead the way with reed instruments as a backup. It works very well to create an ancient sombre mood.
From the outset of ‘I’m Living in a Coma’, these instruments combine to give a gipsy wandering feel that doesn’t let up. From the misery of the opener to the more dreamlike ‘Letter from Choco to Melody’ and the poetic forest field recordings of ‘Alone’ – I feel like I’m travelling with Unto Ashes. They are moments in time and I’m lucky to hear them. Short instrumental interludes ‘Hidden’ and ‘Not Here’ add to that passage of time vibe too.
Often it’s when the band comes together and vocal duties are either shared like a chant or female-led where I enjoyed the album most. ‘I’m Too High’ is a trippy psyche-folk gem. Everything is a step out of tune with each other to an eerie accuracy. ‘Don’t Ask Me I’m Crazy’ and ‘Fall Leaves Fall’ hark back to previous albums of marching medieval troupes and the frankly creepy vocal piece ‘White Noise’ is so quietly mumble-sung it caught me off guard with its shaken delivery. Possibly my favourite piece though is the token cover on the album. ‘My Dying Machine’ is a Gary Numan cover and has sitars, dulcimers, huge percussive loops and heart chants. It’s something you’d expect from Peter Ulrich, Dead Can Dance or Arcana. Unto Ashes are often the low-fi alternative for these artists but here the production is on par.
‘Pretty Haunted Things’ is a decent place to start as a newbie coming into Unto Ashes – 9 albums in. It offers hints at their past whilst also being a distinctly unique album into their catalogue. I look forward to their onward dance into oblivion with glee.
Recommended track: My Dying Machine
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