Fri, Jan 15, 2016 - Page 11 News List

Live Wire: Eccentric abstraction: The new breed

By Joe Henley  /  Contributing reporter

Taipei grinders Ashen have toiled nearly a decade, keeping a substrata of the extreme scene alive that is comprised of few more than themselves.

Photo courtesy of chang lang, brutal wei and rex ho

They say you should write with your audience in mind. I’ve never fully understood that. If anything, the audience should be treated with a healthy dose of contempt. All things should. Government. Vapid celebrities. Anti-vaxxers. The entire grim morass deserving of little more than naked antipathy and unveiled skepticism.

Italian painter and sculptor Alberto Burri wasn’t thinking of the critics wet lips puckered against his backside when he was singeing petroleum byproducts and melting PVC in the name of eccentric abstraction. Nor should metal bands be dreaming of being critical darlings when they seek to achieve the equivalent with their music.

Grindcore has always been the aural equivalent of Burri. Something that was never meant to be understood, but nevertheless can lead those who are willing to go through its wonderful cacophonous suffering to a higher level of understanding of this confounding world.

For nigh on a decade Taipei four piece grind act Ashen has been blasting away at the conventions of modern metal by adhering to the original grindcore aesthetics birthed by the likes of early Swans and Repulsion. A sound so grating, antisocial and full of contempt it almost sought rejection in the way the predecessor punk rock did during the brief window prior to its inevitable commercialization.

It hasn’t been easy for Ashen, flying the grind flag all but solo since 2007 (save for compatriots in filth Brain Corrosion) in a scene that trends far to the commercial end of the spectrum. Politically conscious from the outset, the band melded hardcore punk’s uncompromising lyrical aggression with a focused and blasting intensity into a sound always a dropped beat away from running off the tracks.

Through numerous lineup changes and subsequent prolonged absences guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter Bruce Chen (陳威豪) managed to keep bringing Ashen back just when people thought they might have gone away. And every time they came back, the razor’s edge was always a few microns sharper, the sound just that much more intense, the lyrics noticeably more pissed off.

A split with Usepentosing (用筆來唱歌), an EP (H1N1) and a single comprised the band’s catalog up to 2012, the elusive full-length left out of reach by lineup instabilities wrought by the usual pitfalls suffered by bands in Taiwan (military service, familial pressure/filial piety guilt trips about taking an iron bowl job and joining the suit and tie army).

Finally, in May of last year, the long-awaited full-length debut saw the light of day. The World Is Not Ours, 19 tracks of blistering grind inferno stoked by righteous sociopolitical rage and the frustrations of a decade spent clawing against that crippling societal expectations of what makes a person worthy in the eyes of the moral gatekeepers. Those who keep the bulk of the population (here and everywhere) safely ensconced in the warm cocoon of the milquetoast middle.

Now with a stable drummer in place for the first time in years, Ashen is poised to lead a new generation of abstract expressionists (grindcore/death metal/ black metal bands) away from the commercial tendencies of the predominant (and largely redundant) sects of deathcore and metalcore.

Tomorrow night four such acts will come together on a single bill, leaders and new jacks in a sub-sect of the scene running as far and fast as they can from the popularity contest the Taiwan underground seems perpetually in danger of becoming.

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