REVIEWS

ASP – ENDLICH! FINALLY!

10 YEARS IN “STRANGER’S” SKIN

“Endlich!” (Finally!) – this is how the new work of “Uncle Remus” of the German goth scene Alexander Spreng is called, with an inspiring exclamation mark. With this album ASP marked the end of the “Fremd” cycle. As we know, Spreng is foreign to half measures: if it’s a song, then it should be 10 minutes long; if it’s an album cycle, then it should last 10 years. But to be honest, over the years there has been a small lyrical digression in the form of the Verfallen dilogy, the mystical history of the Astoria hotel. Then ASP went back in the “Fremd” cycle direction again. Thus, “Endlich!” became the fifth full-length album of the cycle (let me remind you that the previous large cycle called “Schwarzer Schmetterling” also consisted of 5 albums). Not sure if there is any pattern here – rather, this is just curious statistics.

In fact, this review is not a trivial task for me, and I’m not sure if I can handle it well. The thing is that after Matthias Ambre left the group (this happened before the release of the first album of the “Fremd” cycle), the focus of Spreng’s work began to shift more and more towards the lyrical component. ASP even started to present their own style as Gothic Novel Rock. Alexander is indeed a talented poet, perhaps one of the best on the German stage. But if earlier, with the arrangements of Matthias the ASP material was perfectly perceived in isolation from the lyrics, then later I began to get the impression that if Spreng could write books that would bring the same royalties as the sale of discs and live performances, then he might not have written music at all. Some compositional-lyrical balance was lost, and in general ASP began to gravitate more towards folk rock motives rather than electro-gothic sound, which, by the way, is quite evident on the example of “Endlich!”, but more on that later.

So, this long introduction was needed to make it clear that the entire “Fremd” cycle cannot be fully appreciated without plunging into the storyline that the author has been building for years. And I didn’t go too deep into Spreng‘s work and this means that, no matter how hard I try, the review will not turn out as complete as I would like. But we will still discuss some patterns, music ideas and lyrical references.

THE KNOT IS UNWINDING

“Intro. Bedenke gut” opens the record, an instrumental introduction in fantasy-folk style, which sets the mood of the album very accurately and smoothly flows into the first song called “Was du dir wünschst”. Here, by the way, I want to note a reference to the single called “Wechselbalg” from the first album of the “Fremd” cycle. It literally runs like this: “Was du dir wünschst, bedenke gut!//Denn manches Mal, da kann es in Erfüllung gehn “(“Think carefully before you wish for something!//Because sometimes dreams can come true”). And in the lyrics of “Was du dir wünschst” we hear the following: “Was du dir wünschst erfüllt sich bald” (“Your wish will soon come true”). It is not difficult to see a direct analogy in this. In addition, both songs are stylistically similar with their Folk Rock arrangements. Already at this moment, it becomes clear to the listener that “Endlich!” is finally unraveling the cocoon of strings that Spreng and his lyrical alter-ego have woven over the years. The next song called “Echo” starts with a calm voice of the protagonist and, gradually increasing the tempo, reveals a melodic, slightly melancholic chorus. In general, “Echo” leaves an aftertaste of light sadness, with hints of nostalgia. I would like to point out that such a bouquet is generally characteristic of “Endlich!”. Even the title of the album itself reflects this duality. But let’s not get distracted. Moreover, one of the most interesting, in my opinion, tracks of the album called “The Eternal Stranger” awaits us further. Let’s start with the fact that the English-language songs in the albums of the “Fremd” cycle can be counted on the fingers of “one milling machine operator`s hand”. In the meantime, I really like the bilingual character of the lyrics of ASP.

Let’s say that I remember the track called “Bones” more than others on the previous album called “Kosmonautilus”. So “The Eternal Stranger” did not disappoint me, even causing some associations with the later works of the “Schwarzer Schmetterling” album cycle. But the track is not only interesting because of the language of the lyrics, but by the eclecticism of blues motives, goth-rock sound and the melody of an Irish ballad. Perhaps this song is several plays away from becoming my favorite track on the album. But no matter how impressed I was by “The Eternal Stranger”, it is not too typical for ASP, but the next song called “Ziel” could very well come out as a single (there is quite a catchy guitar theme on which the track is based). And I think I can hear the style of Lutz Demmler here. Besides, this is perhaps the first song on the album where I don’t hear folk motives, but only a good old energetic Gothic Rock.

Although the next track which is called “Seerosenblüten von einst” starts with a very epic guitar riff, nevertheless, the only plus I see in it is the opportunity to enjoy the lingering vocals of Spreng‘s velvet voice for eight and a half minutes… Well, of course, provided that you are not foreign to such ways of satisfaction. The outro track called “Ausgewachsener Albdruck (Fremde Träume III)” serves as the finale of the first part of “Endlich!”, where you can listen to Spreng telling his story for a little more, in case the previous track is not enough for you, or if you are seriously carried away by the story of the lyric hero.

WE ARE FINITE

The track called “Endlich!” that has the same name as the album, opens the second half of the record, in which Lutz Demmler‘s contribution to the arrangement is already glaringly obvious. If you listened to the albums by Umbra et Imago of the 2000`s, you can easily identify the author’s style as well. As for the track itself, although melodically the song is again closer to Folk, it is still perceived as a true Gothic Metal thanks to the efforts of Lutz. Surely, it is not so easy for Spreng to fight the “inner celt” in his soul, but judging by the track called “Endlich!” and the next one called “Ruine (FremdkörPerson, viertens)”, Lutz still succeeds, albeit with varying success. The title of the song hints that there have also been the previous parts. Indeed, “FremdkörPerson Erstens” came out on the “Fremd” album, the track called “Panzerhaus (FremdkörPerson, zweitens)” could be heard on “Maskenhaft”; the third part called “Phragmokontrolle (FremdkörPerson, drittes)” met us on the album called “Kosmonautilus”. And here we have the fourth part of this cycle within the cycle.

I don’t know how these songs are connected conceptually, but obviously they are somehow connected. And while you are wondering why I was talking about a concept that I cannot explain, I will move on to the next song called “Spät”. It was released as a single shortly before the release of the album and for a reason: indeed, a very suitable composition for this purpose is a mid-tempo composition, with a pleasant, memorable chorus and a classic compositional structure. Besides, “Spät” revisits the theme of “butterflies”, perhaps defining the entire creative art of ASP. And the song has such a sound that it is quite possible to imagine it as a part of both “Requiembryo” and their later works. So a fan of any ASP period will be able to find something of his own in it.

Then the album takes us to one of the most epic compositions, the almost 10-minute “Widmung”. And here the irony is that the longer Spreng‘s track is, the less I can write about it. So it was with “Seerosenblüten von einst” from the first disc, and with “Widmung” the situation is the same. Yes, there is a cool guitar bridge. Yes, it is atmospheric, there is great vocals, again, beyond praise, the chorale, polyphony, and that’s all. But the development of the music theme was not enough for me: the track is very monotonous for 10 minutes of its length. Let’s remember Janus, who can release a 30-minute composition, and it will be interesting to listen to every minute of it. So far, I have not seen such superpowers in ASP. But after “Widmung” the very first single of the album called “Raise Some Hell Now!” is just what is needed.

It was this track that made me follow the album more closely and wait for it with great interest. And this is not only because of the language of the lyrics, for which I have a weakness when performed by Spreng. The track turned out to be a very groovy, energetic, driving Gothic-Rock smash hit, which I hadn’t heard from ASP for a long time. But actually, in the album version, for some reason, a confusing intro with bagpipes is attached to it – it is like the fifth wheel – really. It’s good that the main part hasn’t changed, and “Raise some hell now!” remains my favorite track on the album, although I have listened to the n-th number of times before the release of the record.

And now, we are finally reaching the end of the record. After the instrumental reprise called “Begleitung (Bedenke gut Instrumentalreprise)”, using the theme from the intro to the first part of the album, the 11-minute opus called “Tor” (“Gates”) follows. Considering the title of the track, the bagpipes here look quite appropriate as an instrument, often used to see the brave Celts on their last journey, one of whom, as we remember, lives in Spreng‘s soul. I would like to note that compositionally “Tor” is much more interesting than “Widmung”, which is similar in its length. The acoustic intro is followed by development of a smooth, unhurried, music theme turning almost into a Doom Metal guitar riff, which, in turn, is followed by a small narrative part, reminiscent of similar inserts from Samsas Traum. Add to this a beautiful violin part, many lyrical references to various fragments of the history of “Stranger” and “Black Butterfly”, including direct quotation of “Fading Away” from the album “Duett”, and we will get a gorgeous ending of the album and the cycle as a whole.

AFTERWORD

Here I want to make some kind of a summary. Although there is also a very entertaining bonus material with interesting collaborations and cover versions on “Endlich!” but conceptually the album and the story of “Fremd” end here. Despite the fact that I didn’t go deep into the concept and, for sure, I missed a lot of important things, the language of music is still quite universal and allows you to understand some things on an emotional level. And it should be admitted that the record copes with the task of conveying the right mood with a bang! For me personally, the “electronic-gothic” period of ASP is closer than the “folk-lyrical” one, but I admit that Spreng and the team do everything they do with talent, and tastes differ. I also consider the unconventional approach to creativity to be a huge plus of the project. I am very impressed that all ASP band members are engaged in creative process, and not only in sound design, collecting tracks like a puzzle, from different templates and clichés.

“Endlich!” became, perhaps, the easiest work of ASP in terms of sound, apart from their acoustic and semi-acoustic albums, but those were obviously their creative needs and concepts. After all, those expressive means that the band used on it seems to perfectly convey the mood of the completion of a large chapter in the creative work and life of the members and lyrical characters of this story. Evaluating the album purely musically, I would probably give it 8 out of 10. But, as I said above, ASP cannot be judged only from this point of view, so in total I confidently give this record 9 out of 10. Besides, don’t forget about the bonuses of the record. They, too, are worthy of adding a few more points to the assessment. As a result, we have one of the best works on the gothic scene this year, and I’m glad that I can finally say that about the new ASP album.


Reviewer Score: 9 out of 10


Author: Irgend Jemand, specially for the NDH FM Online

Translated by Yuri Kudryavtsev.

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