With over ten tracks of a sonic landscape, Norway’s Star of Ash’s (real name Heidi Solberg Tveitan) sophomore release The Thread is another strong contribution to her repertoire, offering novel musical substance in a world that is often too saturated with overplayed ideas and devoid of genuine originality.
However, it is by no means a revolutionary achievement, but rather a determined and creative step forward coming from a rich legacy of past influences and work. Such a piece was a foreseeable outcome.
Tveitan’s debut solo release Iter.Viator was a satisfying transition from the origins of her musical career with the band Peccatum, which made a name for her by breaking new ground, combining a seemingly distasteful blend of diverse influences.
Imagine the raw intensity of black metal seamlessly interwoven with orchestral strings, electronica, jazz-drumming, quaint keyboards and haunting vocals. Somehow it works beautifully—perhaps to the adventurous and seasoned ear. In Iter.Viator, Tveitan toned down the abrasive metal influence while augmenting the prominence of the luscious soundscapes and softer atmosphere that gave Peccatum its distinct sound.
Following the release of Iter.Viator, she further diversified with her involvement in the Hardingrock project, which sought to combine extreme metal with traditional Norwegian folk music in the context of storytelling folklore, collaborating with heavyweights in both categories. With The Thread, she continues exploring yet more morose manifestations of the human spirit, under a new light that is uniquely her own.
The first impression immediately upon the listener is the minimalism of The Thread. There is nothing pretentious going on here, merely a simple and calm discourse between keyboards, drums, bass and ambient sounds—a stark departure from the in-your-face avant-garde passages of Peccatum or the almost excessive expressiveness that Iter.Viator contains, as if tirelessly trying to force a musical catharsis upon the listener. New sounds and ideas are introduced gradually as the album progresses.
In “The World Spins for You” there is a balance of beautiful expression and dreary foreboding. A few tracks later, “The Snake Pit” never makes it out of the dark abyss, as it suffocates hope with unyielding despair. The closing track “Neo Drugismo” is an excellent finish to the album in a neutral mood, repetitive keyboard arpeggios over unintelligible storytelling—in Japanese. Though it may come across as bizarre (and I definitely can’t speak on the significance of its meaning), phonetically it is a perfect fit for the sound.
Though it seems I may just be cherry picking a handful of songs to elaborate on, this is intentional. Indeed there is not a particular song that stands out at the expense of another on this album and I mentioned just three snapshots of a seamless continuum. Consistently disciplined songwriting and musicianship is evident not only from track to track, but within the tracks themselves. In the theme of the album, the favoring of subtle artistry over dramatic developments stays its course.
To me, the album as a whole seems to be a soundtrack to a dream, where the listener is called upon to give meaning to the collective set of images that each track represents. When the forty-two minutes of this album are up, you’re taken aback and a bit perplexed what to make of it all.
Much like a dream you had the night before, though the experience was gripping while you were in slumber, a few minutes after you awaken you are bewildered at the elusiveness of something that moments before was so seemingly real. You cannot recall a single concrete thought yet the feeling of the experience is burned into your memory.
Sadly, this album is not without its share of flaws. Though Tveitan has come a long way from her previous works where at times her vocals were borderline unbearable, they still need some refining. Of course, one of her stylistic objectives has been to set a macabre mood, so her screams in previous recordings that would rival a dentist’s pick being scraped over a blackboard could be argued a necessary evil. But I’m convinced that there must have been a better alternative. Though this release is devoid of any screaming, even her sung vocals could use some polishing. The intonation is a little unsatisfying and at times her style is a hindrance rather than an enhancement to the overall enjoyment of the piece. Thankfully, there are much fewer vocals on this release and the magnificently executed instrumentals and overall composition definitely make up for this shortcoming several times over.
Overall, Tveitan’s past experience, her collaboration with artists from Germany to Japan to her native Norway, and own her creative juices serve to craft a very well made record. I definitely take my hat off to this commendable effort at sincerity and uniqueness, and would heartily recommend this gem to anyone who has even a passing interest.
For more information on Heidi Tvitan and Star of Ash, you can check out her MySpace page at www.myspace.com/starofashmusic.