The Phantom Tollbooth
Your Caress
Artist: Ashen Mortality
Label: Forsaken Records
Length: 7 tracks / 37:27 minutes

        The sweetest love from you offered
         forced to run so cold
         where once true love flowed
         regretful tears of sorrow now
         flow freely down and fall to the ground
         (from "Broken Bonds")

Ian Arkley (former frontman of Seventh Angel) is back with more doom and gloom metal. Some say this album sounds just like Paramaecium's A Time to Mourn, which Arkley also played guitars and wrote most of the songs for. I haven't heard that album, but if that's true then he needs to make sure he varies his projects next time. Paramaecium and Ashen Mortality are the two most well-known doom bands in Christian metal, and it makes no sense for them to sound identical.

Anyway, Your Caress is in many ways an improvement over Ashen Mortality's debut, Sleepless Remorse. The arrangements are stronger, the mix heavier, the tempo a bit faster. If you've got a good stereo, the guitars pack quite a snarling punch. Still with that same mournfully rough Seventh Angel tone. Arkley has always used slightly awkward transitions, but the unsettling starts and stops are put to better use here than in the past.

Arkley goes for more clean gothic vocals than before, but the accessible death growl is still there, making for good contrast. The spooky organ plays a lesser (nonexistent) role than on Sleepless Remorse, which keeps the songs from haunting like a few on the debut did. Solitary acoustic passages, female vocals, and melodic lead guitar breaks help, but they aren't featured enough for my tastes, and they aren't tied in smoothly enough when they are.

The lyrics are obsessed with our faithlessness and the darkness of fallen man, but the powerful and up-tempo "Through the Vale" ends the album with hope:

Soundclip and ordering available at

Josh Spencer  (8/14/99)