In Hindu texts, Ashvattha is the eternal and sacred fig tree in which all worlds exist. It is also the title of California tech/prog death metal outfit The Last of Lucy’s newest album. Taking into account this album title, and the cover art depicting an otherworldly landscape rife with pyramids, mushrooms, and a tower spiraling upward to a giant brain, I am led to believe that the major theme of this album is enlightenment. While I could be wrong about this, it does seem evident that – given the promise of jazzy saxophone sections, ambient synth work, and the intertwining of a variety of metal genres – The Last of Lucy are striving to bring some enlightenment to the tech-death genre. There is a lot to digest here on Ashvattha, so how does it all settle out in the end?
Ashvattha‘s opening track, “Chapter 1 – Epiphyte”, is the first part of a three-song suite that is rather tame compared to the math-y chaos that runs rampant throughout the rest of the album. Alternating between death metal riffs and djenty grooves while a subdued synthesizer track sustains chords that provide additional depth to the atmosphere of the track, the instrumentalists provide the backdrop over which singer Josh De La Soul displays a wide range of vocal abilities by alternating between guttural growls and shrill highs. Towards the closing minute of the track, the metal fades away and the synthesizers take over; this is where we get our first experience with the saxophone sections. Although I was at first skeptical, thinking that this would be a poorly executed and somewhat gimmicky trick, I have to say that – for the most part – it works, even when they throw in some harp and sitar for good measure.
There is no question that it takes a significant amount of talent and technical proficiency to weave a musical web that has the ability to shift between time signatures and riff styles in as little as a single measure, and it doesn’t take long to hear that The Last of Lucy are proficient in their chosen sound. However, my favorite moments on Ashvattha usually come during the absence of chaos. There are many prog rock-influenced sections throughout the album, still supported by ambient synth work, that really allow the individual musicians’ talents to shine. A prime example of this comes halfway through the interlude track “Hypostatize”, when bassist Ricky Fregosi lays down an amazing groove while the guitars compliment the riff in a fashion that summons the spirit of Animals As Leaders.
Sections of Ashvattha like the one previously mentioned truly are a huge savior for the album as a whole. A few tracks, such as “Agarttha” (which our staff writer Andrew wrote an exclusive premiere on back in October), keep tight control of the group’s technical offerings for the duration of the song; however, there are times where The Last of Lucy begin to let the reins slip on their organized chaos. Sometimes, frenetic grindcore drumming intersects with the high-end vocals and leaves the guitar track sounding somewhat muddled if you are listening to the music through any source other than headphones. And although some sections of individual tracks can begin to feel a little bit aimless and lacking in flow, it is a rare and usually short-lived problem, occurring before The Last of Lucy pull my head back into the game with a strong groove or a much-needed reprieve from a sea of time changes and single-measure riffs.
While Ashvattha is far from a masterpiece, it is a highly ambitious record that – more often than not – executes its concepts successfully. Fans of The Last of Lucy‘s previous two EPs will see a remarkable improvement in skill and songwriting with this self-released full-length debut. They are attempting something pretty difficult here, and are only getting better at it. I won’t be putting Ashvattha on any ‘best of’ lists, but it is still a solid release that does leave me in hopeful anticipation of the band’s future works.
Notable Tracks: “Chapter 1- Epiphyte”; “Hypostatize”; “Agarttha”
FFO: The Faceless, Ion Dissonance, The HAARP Machine