Ah Ashton, the philosopher poet, the aesthete, the connoisseur of refinement both anachronistic and fantastic, the love child of David Bowie and Peter Murphy. A man with the requisite mystique, enigmatic persona, and romantic diction to make all the goth boys and goth girls yearn to be swept off to what one must assume would be his decadent castle in a distant land. Ahston’s reputation both as a musician and erudite sonneteer has been a draw of the band since the beginning. His command of the stage and command of saccharine articulations indeed exemplify the quality and ethos so many goths strive for.
I have a long, personal history with The Awakening. Their single Dark Romantics from way back in 2000 was my first introduction to gothic rock, and being as The Awakening were one of the approved listens for Christian goths, which I was at the time, I spent many subsequent years going to see them live and buying their albums. Ashton’s own spirituality seems to me more a syncretism than strictly Judeo-Christian, though the lyrical content of the time was atavistic and ambiguous enough for the Christian goth community to overlay their own theistic readings onto the music. Over the following years I DJ’d several of their shows, spent time with them at after parties, and eventually had the honor of Ashton and Rose attending my wedding and creating my wife’s Gothic wedding gown. Needless to say, the music of The Awakening was a seminal force in the construction of my ontology.
I feared, however, that Ashton’s inveterate expertise may have wavered in recent years. There was cause for concern (and great anticipation) after the delay of Chasm way back in October 2014. In fact i interviewed Ashton and Rose on this very podcast in 2014 when we thought the release was imminent. What must this delay imply as to the quality of the new release? Then more recently there was the middling collaboration with Mark Gemini (The Mission) for their project MGT, which gave me more pause to think. Perhaps a return to form would tarnish the legacy of the act; in reality we hadn’t heard anything new from The Awakening since their 2009 release Tales of Absolution and Obsoletion, a return to form after the semi-departure of Razor Burn which more or less left behind the atmospheric and romantic sounds we’d come to associate them with.
I wanted to approach this review as objectively as possible, which is why I am so transparent about my history with the band, and the revolving door of bandmates Ashton has employed for live shows (several of which I remain friends with today), and my very real doubts that this album could deliver the level of quality I was expecting. This is why when Ashton contacted me for a free review copy, I decided to purchase the vinyl version of the record myself. Ashton agreed, and sent along a CD copy and a shirt.
Chasm combines my favorite dark atmospheric elements from albums like The Fourth Seal of Zen with the soaring Gothic Rock and dancy post punk elements from albums like Roadside Heretics and Some Kind of Satellite, while leaving behind the effervescent industrial rock tonalities of albums like Darker Than Silence. Speaking of Ashton’s solo work, the lines between the hyper-romantic, dark romanticism of The Awakening and his more grounded solo work which is clearly inspired by Ashton’s extensive catalogue of 70’s and 80’s wave, glam rock and post punk influences, have been successfully blurred, and we are all the better for it. This is something I’ve always admired about the man behind the persona, and I’m happy to see more of that making its way into The Awakening, without losing the iconic aesthetic and musicological semiotics fans have come to expect.
I’ve mentioned several times on our podcast, most recently during our review of the new album from Nox Novacula, that while I am in love with the current darkwave/post punk revival, what we aren’t getting enough of is interesting, well produced gothic rock albums. Chasm scratches this itch in such a unique way it deserves a spot among those few artists currently releasing in this beloved genre. What makes The Awakening unique in this arena is Ashton’s eclecticism. The album is less Sisters and Nephilim (though certainly those comparisons exist), and more Baudelaire meets Children on Stun.
The intimacy and sweeping grandiosity of the album aren’t limited to the timbre of Asthons silky voice or the canorous chorus’ of tracks like Back to Wonderland and Raphael Awake. Lyrically Chasm delivers on the classic existential ponderings, oblique ontological musings and explicit romantic overtures we’ve come to expect from The Awakening. Like any talented lyricist, the prominent lyrical content feels both personal and intimate to the artist (in part due to the sonorous delivery) yet relatable and applicable to the listener.
This uniquely complex and striking entry into the goth music landscape grabbed me from the melancholic first bars of Other Ghosts, and only let go once the needle hit the edge. Certainly refreshing in an age where many argue album craft is dead. With tracks like A Minor Incision, which feel like the culmination of 20 years worth of hard work from The Awakening refined and distilled into a single track, to songs like Shadows in the Dark which elicits a transcendent euphoria, begging us to leave behind our acrimonious proclivities and embrace the best of humanity, Ashton has again demonstrated a masterful command of sound and substance. Chasm achieves a pinnacle in The Awakening’s catalogue and leaves an indelible, idiosyncratic mark on the broader musical landscape.