Thursday, July 28, 2011

Asher - Harmonious Thought (2006)

Sometimes an album comes along that just hits you like a ton of bricks.  It captivates you, surprises you, and thrills you with each listen.  Maybe it's the melodies that keep you coming back.  Perhaps the clever songwriting is a major draw.  Or it could be that the lyrics speak to you.  What about the production, sound, and the way it's all put together?  And then there are the vocals; they can be a major draw as well.  So what happens when you have all of that at once?  It's a musical Perfect Storm.

The thing about albums like this is that they often go unnoticed, which is a true shame.  Sure, there are albums like this that have garnered mainstream attention, but often the best ones never get heard by the masses.  And oftentimes, much like most art, it's not until that artist or band is gone until there is true appreciation for their art and what they accomplished in their brief time.  Such is the case with Asher - they weren't truly appreciated until they were gone.  The right person didn't hear their music until they were long departed, and even then it wasn't enough.

"Harmonious Thought" is an album ahead of its time.  Most everyone who is into rock music can identify the sound of "Pop Metal" if they heard it, at least in the context of the 1980's and early 90's.  But what if that sound evolved to more truly reflect those 2 words and a more creative melding of same?  And what if you did it first, though your obvious successors (Blessed By a Broken Heart comes to mind) garnered all the attention?  Sadly, that's what has happened to this band.  Being from Canada doesn't exactly make them more likely to be on anyone's radar screen either, though that's a minor concern in today's Internet-fueled music industry.

Musically, this is a delight.  Everything here sounds so good, from the chunky guitar riffs and deep bass to the keyboard flourishes and weighty drum tones.  And then the vocals - you've not heard such a brash combination work so well.  When I first heard the lead-off track "Exhortation" I thought it sounded like the DuPree sisters (from Eisley) fronting Immortal Souls.  And while it's not quite that spread out, there is a definite sense of real pop meets metal, even if the pop melodies take the occasional backseat to metal songwriting conventions, and vice versa.  Still, it works so well you may be surprised by just how little the divide affects you when you listen.

And then there's the songwriting, replete with all the things you would expect from a well-oiled machine.  There are faster, heavier "barn burner" tracks, and slower, more methodical songs that take different turns as they go along.  There is a highly effective power ballad that is so radio-ready it hurts, yet is still insanely catchy and sucks you in.  There are a couple tracks where vocalist Jenny belts out high-pitched death metal wails, something you don't expect when hearing the rest of her slightly sugary pop vocals in the music, which just adds to the flavor and excitement of the record.  There's such a balance on this album struck between different elements of pop, rock and metal that it's hard to fault Asher for the minor mistakes they make.

Lyrically, the album is also diverse, tackling a number of subjects.  You have a song about lost love, a song with lyrics right out of the book of Revelations describing Jesus commanding an army, there are a couple songs about the need to not conform to what is going on in the world, and songs about life in general and just dealing with the every day.  Even lyrically there is something for everyone here, and aside from a handful of moments where the phrasing can be a bit clumsy, it works quite well.

Does this album have any flaws?  Sure, but they're relatively minor.  As I mentioned, despite mostly well-written lyrics, there are a couple spots where either the lyrics or the phrasing is a bit clumsy.  Musically, though the album is diverse and a treat, I would like to have heard even more variation, as I think it was highly possible.  And production-wise, though the album sounds fantastic, it's a bit too "quiet".  Compare this to the post-Asher project Monolith debut album (recorded and mastered just 3 years later) and it's apparent that a remaster would do this album good, if only to boost the volume a few notches.

Now let me get to the part that I'm sure you know was coming - my review of this album is not very subjective, so take my rating as it is.  I'm am a full-fledged Asher fanboy.  I own the CD, purchased just after the end of the band's time together, which is why I don't have the t-shirt.  I ordered one (or tried), but they were gone.  I was quite disappointed.  Thankfully, at least, I have the physical CD release.  But now the band has re-issued the album as a free digital download.  As if the album itself weren't good enough, they've also included bonus content in this re-issue.  There's a little instrumental ditty, the band's awesome cover of the classic pop hit "What a Feeling", and I'm both honored and humbled to say they've also included part of my interview with guitarist Colin Parrish in the download.  I conducted this interview with him in late 2009, at a time when it appeared Asher might finally have got the recognition they deserved, with Colin's current band Monolith signing to Bombworks and a prospective CD re-issue of "Harmonious Thought" on the horizon.  Sadly, it was not to be.  But now, at least, for those who didn't pony up the funds for the album the first time, there's zero excuse not to at least download and listen to this fantastic piece of work because it won't cost you a dime.  Just a few minutes of download time and about an hour of your time to soak in one of the more unique and interesting rock/metal records of the last 10 years.  Highly recommended, if not downright essential.


1 comment:

Mike Klassen said...

Just read this for the first time and I just wanted to personally thank you. I don't know if anyone has truly understood us the way you described in your review. In another world, in another time, Asher could have been the savior of metal in pop music but alas it wasn't meant to be. It makes me so happy to know that people still appreciate the album even if it's over half a decade old already. We were just kids, Jenni not even out of her teens yet when we did the album. It's hard not to dwell on what could have been but seeing things like this at least makes me feel that what we did hasn't gone to waste. If you want a Tshirt or 5 email me and I would be happy to send you a few. Thanks again,

Mike Klassen