Ashes are usually what’s left at the end. When the fire has burnt out and everything that it’s consumed has been taken, ashes are all you’re left with. There’s a finality to something being reduced to ashes. Few things feel more like a definitive ending than everything distinctive about something being burnt away from it. Sometimes, however, ashes aren’t only a harbinger of an ending but the regenerative pile that something new and deadly rises out of.
Formed in 2020 in Australia, Ashen has wasted no time making a name for themselves in the death metal underground. Godless Oath, the band’s 2021 debut EP, made many diehard death metal fans sit up and take notice. This year’s Ritual of Ash, the group’s first longplayer, showed that the promised displayed in that earlier outing hasn’t burnt out in the time between releases. I recently caught up with guitarist Shannon Over to chat about his band’s history as well as what keeps the fire burning in the Ashen camp.
I wanted to start by getting how the band formed. How did you guys meet and what made you want to start this type of band together?
Shannon: Ashen officially started in 2020. Prior to that, we were called Burial Ground consisting of Josh [Harris], Richard [Clements], and myself and 2 other dudes. We decided to start fresh and write some new stuff and recruited Ben [Mazzarol] to play drums. Ben, Richard, and I all used to play in a band called Vespers Descent quite a while back and we’ve played in bands together on and off for years. We met Josh through another band I played in with Ben [laughs] Confusing, I know.
What was your introduction to death metal and who were some of the bigger bands in getting you into the genre?
Shannon: Well I started out as a thrash kid…early Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, etc…until I heard Altars of Madness on a tape my friend had in school. I was hooked on death metal after that.
Being a relatively new band, how do you guys keep a healthy band dynamic and make sure that you’re all on the same page?
Shannon: Good question, we do this by making sure we’re having fun foremost, playing stuff we enjoy playing, respecting each others opinions, which isn’t hard at all if you value everyone’s input.
What is the music writing side of things like for the band? Is there a set process that you do to come up with the songs?
Shannon: Well, our process always starts with a riff or a riff idea and it’ll go from there. I’ll record some ideas at home and, if the band likes it, we develop the ideas together in the studio and also in playing it and tweaking it in live band rehearsal. If it doesn’t feel good to play, it’s not usually good and we’ll start again.
What about the lyric writing process? Is there anything that you turn to for inspiration and what do you try to do with the words to an Ashen song?
Shannon: Vocals are Richard’s domain. Thats all him. I can say that it’s mostly dark themes, some horror based, etc. but they are usually non-specific intentionally to inspire the imagination to run with it.
What was the process of recording the debut like? Were there challenges to getting your sound down on that first LP? The mix you guys have on that record is killer. Where did you record and how were you able to achieve such good, crisp production?
Shannon: We do all the recording ourselves at my home. Probably the only challenges we had recording ROA was keeping to the deadline, which we made easily in the end but a few of us had COVID during the recording so there were a few delays here and there which stressed us a bit.
In regards to the production, sound, and mix, we wanted something full and big. Crisp is a good word [laughs]. A huge part of this is Marko Tervonen of Studio MT in Sweden. Marko mixed and mastered the album and our previous EP. He has magic ears, I think, and a really good understanding of what we wanted. On top of that he’s a killer dude and DM legend. He’s also the main man in The Crown. What better qualifications can you hope for?
I really dig the sequencing on that record. The tracks fit really well together and offer a nice variety for the listener. How important was getting the right track order for you and how important is that level of variety in your tracks? As a listener, it definitely kept me on my toes and it was nice to not know what to expect out of the structure of every song.
Shannon: Thanks for the feedback. We didn’t set out to write a fast here, a slow song there, or anything like that. We like to keep things interesting for ourselves and we like a lot of different types of metal and music. I really enjoy dynamics in a full album, keeps me interested.
I wanted to ask about a few songs in specific on there in regard to their lyrical and musical origins. What’s the story behind that opener, “Ritual?”
Shannon: Well, musically “Ritual” was one of the first songs written for the album. It came to completion pretty quickly. I’ve found when a song feels like it just writes itself, it’s a good sign. Lyrically, it’s based around a blood sacrifice and that’s about all I can tell you. It really is Richard’s domain.
What about the story behind “Blood?”
Shannon: I can answer this because I asked Rich what it was about too. It’s a revenge story. A dude and his family get murdered and the desire for revenge reanimates his corpse and he hunts…
Musically, Ben and I wrote this song. We really enjoyed writing. It probably came together in about 45 minutes.
How about the inspiration behind “Embrace Extinction?”
Shannon: Apocalypse themes here, the rest is up to your imagination.
That cover really uses a lot of bold reds and throws everything at a tilt to really make it in general and the figure near the bottom in specific stand out. Who did the cover and how much direction did you give them?
Shannon: The cover is done by Giannis Nakos of Remedy Art Design. Giannis is an amazing artist. He does a lot of metal stuff. He’s a super talented and skilled guy [and] great to work with.
We wanted something that inspires the imagination like a lot of the early ’90s DM covers. Both this album and the EP before are done by him and they tie in together as if part of our own universe.
We give him very loose prompts and made a couple of tweaks here and there but mostly stayed out of his way .
What’s your local scene in Perth? Is there one to be active in and has it shaped the band?
Shannon: We have a healthy metal scene here in Perth. It’s great [with] some really awesome bands for such a small isolated place. You can pretty much find a show to go to every other week if you wanted.
Lastly, what are your goals for the future of Ashen?
I’d love to get out there more [and] spread the word of Ashen. We have had really great support from DM listeners from all around the world. It’s been very humbling. We have amazing fans and support.
Photo at top: Ritual of Ash album cover.