Unto Ashes: Ghosts Captured (Digital)

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Ghosts Captured was released in a 200-copy extremely limited 4-panel ecoWallet

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For fifteen years, acclaimed darkwave ensemble Unto Ashes have been unrepentant and uncompromising purveyors of apocalyptic folk, neo-Medieval, gothic, neoclassical, and ethereal music; during that time they have released seven full-length albums and a number of singles and compilation tracks. Their newest release, Ghosts Captured, is easily their most ambitious effort to date. The album contains a total of 25 cover songs (18 on the physical CD and an additional 7 available for free download), breathing “blood-lit” life into an incredibly broad array of songs from some of the most improbable bands on record.

Ghosts Captured‘s reinterpretations comprise more than 90 minutes of exceptional voice arrangements atop Medieval & Renaissance instruments, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and electronics. With considerable panache, imagination, self-assurance, and verve, Unto Ashes have certainly captured the ghosts of some of their favorite pieces, and in their own unique manner seek herewith share their visionary reinterpretations with new and longstanding fans.

Recorded from 1999 to 2014, each track has been meticulously crafted and executed with style and grace. In many instances, the Unto Ashes version sounds totally unlike the original, attesting to the risky, non-conformist approach to music that has characterized the band since its inception.

According to Unto Ashes mastermind Michael Laird, the album is entitled Ghosts Captured because, “These songs have been haunting our minds, in various ways and to varying degrees, for years. We’ve always enjoyed the challenge of making covers, but obviously it can be very risky, even to try, because in so many instances the originals can never be surpassed. However, our only intention has been to pay homage to the original creation, to show our respect and admiration. For us, the process of arranging and recording a cover version can take ages, but we do it to exorcise the ghost of that which has continued to possess us. To be obsessed with a song, to listen to it over and over and over, and study it; to break it down and destroy it; to rebuild it and ultimately to make it our own… This is the only way for us to free ourselves from the obsession. Someone said that the only way out is to go further in. That’s what we’ve had to do. The new album presents the vehicles of our release from songs that have been echoing relentlessly through our minds for so long. They are all ghosts, captured.”

Of the twenty-five tracks, no less than ten are unreleased; four are remixes; and two had originally appeared on obscure, now completely unobtainable compilation CDs.

These chosen songs document the wide range of music that has inspired Unto Ashes over the years. To the uninitiated, some of these selections might be surprising, but Unto Ashes fans have come to celebrate the band’s fascination with many different styles of music, including, but certainly not limited to: heavy metal (herein represented by Blue Oyster Cult and Van Halen), punk (Adolescents, Flipper), new wave (Depeche Mode, New Order, Devo), goth (Christian Death, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy), neo-folk (Current 93, Fire + Ice), dark wave (Qntal, Covenant, Apoptygma Berzerk, Lycia), black metal (Nostarah, Emperor), as well as the still unclassifiable Neil Young and Tori Amos.

How can so many covers of so many disparate artists, recorded over a period of fifteen years and with several different vocalists, still sound like the same band? The answer is that Unto Ashes has never sounded like anyone else, and indeed has always sought to make music that sounds different from album to album, even from song to song. And yet the present album is unmistakably Unto Ashes, with characteristically exotic, often unorthodox instruments such as the harmonium, viola da gamba, hurdy-gurdy, cello, autoharp, dulcimers, Arabic percussion, to name just a few. Long-time and newly converted Unto Ashes fans will be delighted to hear vocals by the inimitable Ericah Hagle, Natalia Lincoln, Sarah Newman, Melody Henry, and Michael Laird, with guest appearances by Bret Helm (Audra) and Sonne Hagal. That all of the above appear for the first time on one Unto Ashes CD is remarkable.

With other bands, a 25-song, 90 minute release might become tedious and predictable; but here, by design, there is considerable dynamic range, not only in tempo, instrumentation, and vocal presentations, but in thematic explorations. While the majority of the songs on the album could easily be classified as belonging to a “darker” side of modern music, Unto Ashes here find occasion to sing instead of brood, to wring beauty from pain and suffering. Ghosts Captured seems to suggest that singing and making beautiful music is the true antidote to all that which is inexplicably bleak in the world. While this practice is as old as mankind, and has extended around the globe, few contemporary bands of any genre and any description seem as capable as Unto Ashes in this context.

Here, among the most unlikely group of songs, and the most improbably diverse mélange of artists, Unto Ashes brings forth their own unmistakable interpretations, in some instance sublimely beautiful, in others terrifying, but always enchanted. While Ghosts Captured is simultaneously dark and compelling, it is also a joy to behold. An album so quixotic, so epic, is unlikely to appear again anytime soon.

On Sale Date: November 3, 2014
Sold Out: July 22, 2015

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  1. Reviews Editor

    From Darkroom

    L’ottavo full-length del progetto di Michael Laird, edito sempre rigorosamente dalla Projekt, è una corposa raccolta delle mirabili cover che l’act americano ha realizzato in 15 anni di attività, dagli esordi ai giorni nostri. La versione fisica consta di un CDr professionale confezionato in digifile in soli 200 esemplari, mentre sul profilo Bandcamp della Projekt è possibile scaricare gratuitamente sette ulteriori cover, che si vanno a sommare alle 18 incluse nel dischetto. Le note ufficiali segnalano che, fra le 25 cover complessive, una decina di esse sono inedite, quattro sono dei remix e due provengono da alcune oscure e ormai non più reperibili compilation. Riscopriamo con piacere interpretazioni che già avevano trovato spazio e gloria sui precedenti album: “Ostia (The Death Of Pasolini)” dei Coil, resa magicamente con tratti etnico/mediorientali che mutano lo scenario (da “Saturn Return”); “Beauty Queen” di Tori Amos, ben interpretata dalla voce femminile, e “Don’t Fear (The Reaper)” dei Blue Oyster Cult, fra i picchi della raccolta nella sua delicatezza acustica con vocals ancora femminili (da “Empty Into White”); “The Drowning Man” dei Cure, resa più onirica e dolente grazie ad archi e canto femminile, e “Frühling” dei Qntal, qui più acustica, percussiva e corale (da “Grave Blessings”); “One World One Sky” dei Covenant, a dimostrazione di come l’anima folk-oriented del combo riesca a piegare anche il future-pop al proprio volere (da “Songs For A Widow”); “Fly On The Windscreen” dei Depeche Mode, proposta in una forma folk sostenuta e molto americana con un finale marzialoide (da “The Blood Of My Lady”); “Kathy’s Song” degli Apoptygma Berzerk, altro highlight di acustica dolcezza con una grande voce femminile, e “Runnin’ With The Devil” dei Van Halen, ulteriore gioiello di intima delicatezza con ancora il bel canto femmineo (da “Burials Foretold”).

    L’arcaico tocco folk dalle venature sinfoniche della creatura di Laird (sempre circondato da ottime voci e strumentisti, come si evince dalla lista dei partecipanti ai brani) impregna le trame originarie per mutarle in autentiche reinterpretazioni delle canzoni, ora riarrangiate, ora mutate profondamente nel ritmo, ora rilette con quegli strumenti antichi e/o tradizionali tanto cari al progetto, ed il risultato riesce sempre a sorprendere (forse la sola rilettura di “Cavity – First Communion” dei Christian Death aderisce più delle altre ai canoni originari). Fra i tanti nomi ai quali Unto Ashes ha reso omaggio troviamo poi New Order (“The Him”), Current 93/Fire + Ice (“The Cursing Song”), Lycia (celebrati con ben due cover: “The Kite” e “Tainted”), ancora Qntal (c’è anche la rilettura di “Palestinalied”), Neil Young (“The Needle And The Damage Done”), Paul Leary/Butthole Surfers (“The Birds Are Dying”) e Sisters Of Mercy, la cui “Heartland” viene interpretata magistralmente in una forma acustica appassionata e dolente, con voce maschile ed un finale di rara intensità. Chi ha seguito la carriera dell’act americano ne conosce di certo la grande versatilità e sa bene quali siano l’abilità e l’impegno che Laird e soci riversano nel loro certosino lavoro, sia nei brani autografi che nelle cover, e raccogliere i molti splendidi tributi ad altri artisti realizzati negli anni in un’unica release ‘ad hoc’ era quasi un atto dovuto. Un must per i fans di Unto Ashes, ma stimolante per chiunque abbia compreso che ha senso cimentarsi con le cover solo quando si possiede la volontà e la capacità di rileggere i brani originari col proprio stile e tocco personale. -Roberto Alessandro Filippozzi

  2. Reviews Editor

    From Textura

    Listening to Ghosts Captured by the so-called “darkwave ensemble” Unto Ashes, I picture a rag-tag collective roaming desolate wastelands in a post-apocalyptic near-future and sharing with the communities they encounter songs from the late-20th century. Their mission bolstered by their conviction, misguided or otherwise, that without their doing so the songs will vanish, the members deliver Medieval folk-drone renderings of classics by Blue Oyster Cult, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Current 93, Sisters of Mercy, Van Halen, and others as they undertake their slow pilgrimage.

    Unto Ashes, incidentally, is no new kid on the block. For fifteen years, the outfit has been bringing its unusual brand of apocalyptic gothic-folk material to the world and has released to date seven full-lengths as well as singles and compilation tracks. Led by Michael Laird, the band performs its songs using acoustic guitar, flute, cello, keyboards, and French horn as well as unorthodox instruments such as the harmonium, viola da gamba, hurdy-gurdy, saranghi, autoharp, and dulcimer.

    On Ghosts Captured Laird, Ericah Hagle, Natalia Lincoln, Sarah Newman, Melody Henry, Bret Helm, and Sonne Hagal are among those who contribute vocals, and the album benefits greatly from the diverse mix of male and female singers. According to Laird, “We’ve always enjoyed the challenge of making covers, but obviously it can be very risky, even to try, because in so many instances the originals can never be surpassed. However, our only intention has been to pay homage to the original creation, to show our respect and admiration … The new album presents the vehicles of our release from songs that have been echoing relentlessly through our minds for so long. They are all ghosts, captured.” Recorded between 1999 and 2014, the project’s twenty-five songs (eighteen on CD plus seven downloads) total ninety minutes of music.

    What’s so endearing about the collection is that, consistent with Laird’s words, Unto Ashes doesn’t treat the songs with irony or as tongue-in-cheek excuses to lampoon the work of other artists. That’s made clear at the very start in the group’s earnest handling of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear (The Reaper).” No cowbells appear in Unto Ashes’ gorgeous folk-ballad rendering of the classic, and the result is a haunting re-imagining so dramatic it enables the listener to hear the song anew (the same applies to the band’s re-work of Van Halen’s “Runnin’ with the Devil”).

    Ericah Hagle contributes stirring vocal takes to the dark lullaby treatment of Apoptygma Berzerk’s “Kathy’s Song” (also featuring strong backing vocals by Natalia Lincoln) and Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done.” Unto Ashes’ heavier side comes to the fore in its feverish, harpsichord-driven version of Christian Death’s “Cavity (1st Communion),” while a dark gothic-folk persona surfaces during the group’s Syd Barrett-styled rendering of Lycia’s “The Kite.” In addition, the trippy psych-folk-drone treatment of New Order’s “The Him” evokes the late-‘60s era in its harmonies, Qntal’s “Fruhling” and “Palestinalied” become stately, choir-driven exercises, and the dark gothic tone of Depeche Mode’s “Fly on the Windscreen” (“Death is everywhere….”) proves to be a natural fit for Unto Ashes. And if the CD’s eighteen tracks aren’t already enough, the seven downloads include versions of “Devo Corporate Anthem” and Flipper’s “The Way of the World.”

  3. Reviews Editor

    From Ondarock

    L’arte della cover è sempre stata una peculiarità di Michael Laird. Non c’è disco dei suoi Unto Ashes in cui il menestrello newyorkese abbia perso occasione per omaggiare il suo background musicale, quello che lo ha guidato negli anni in una delle avventure più avvincenti e decisive del macrouniverso dark statunitense. Dopo l’exploit dell’ultimo, straordinario Burials Foretold, Michael si prende una pausa e decide di riunire in un’unica raccolta tutte le cover seminate nel glorioso passato della sua band. Sono ben diciotto quelle selezionate per Ghosts Captured, e non manca davvero nessuna delle tante angolazioni da cui è possibile inquadrare il retroterra del sound del gruppo: l’industrial più esoterico, la new wave, il neo-folk, il cantautorato tradizionale, il metal, persino il synth-pop. Nessuna, peraltro, omaggiata servilmente, né riconoscibile al volo in rivisitazioni che in gran parte dei casi ne rivoluzionano letteralmente gli arrangiamenti.

    Alla prova di un ascolto lungo ma non per questo impegnativo, svettano sulle altre in principio l’apertura da brividi di una “(Dont’ Fear) The Reaper” ambientata in una ipotetica corte rinascimentale, una “The Him” che si trasforma da litania sintetica a liturgia arcana, l’invocazione quasi neoclassica a cui è splendidamente adattata “The Cursing Song” e la conversione del rito funereo di “Ostia (The Death Of Pasolini)” in saltarello à-la-ultimi Dead Can Dance.
    I conti tornano senza avanzi, le coordinate da sempre tipiche del marchio Unto Ashes si riconciliano con le loro origini prime. Sul versante gotico, i compari Lycia e gli amici Qntal sono omaggiati rispettivamente per ben due volte: i primi in una “The Kite” di cui viene mantenuto intatto il Dna tantrico e nella danza spiritata di “Tainted”, i secondi in una versione commensale e spolpata di “Palestinalied” e con una più vivace interpretazione di “Frühling” – già su Grave Blessings.

    Si va invece decisamente più lontani dai canoni con gli inchini al maestro Neil Young e a Tori Amos: “The Needle And The Damage” è intrisa d’oscurità al punto tale da risultare l’episodio più sinistro dell’intera raccolta, mentre “Beauty Queen” viene ridotta a un minuto abbondante di commossa preghiera. Stupiscono meno, forse perché già note, la “The Drowning Man” dei Cure alla maniera dei This Mortal Coil (anch’essa già su “Grave Blessings”), l’irriconoscibile “Fly On The Windscreen” depechemodiana in forma di folk ballad (risalente invece a “The Blood Of My Lady”) e i due estratti dal già citato, ultimo capolavoro di due anni fa, ovvero “Kathy’s Song” dei Apoptygma Berzerk e la “Runnin’ With The Devil” capovolta da sfuriata rabbiosa a carezza soffice. Trattamento analogo è riservato per altro ai due pezzi posti in chiusura, ovvero “One World One Sky” dei Covenant – decisamente la scelta più stupefacente – e “Heartland” dei Sisters Of Mercy.

    Idealmente già proiettati nel 2015 – quando dovrebbe uscire il nuovo album vero e proprio – come sottinteso dal sottotitolo in cifre romane del disco, gli Unto Ashes si fermano per la prima volta a contemplare loro stessi, le loro origini, il loro suono e le loro evoluzioni. Non un’operazione necessaria, non un disco fondamentale, ma una meritata autocelebrazione per uno degli act che ha saputo incidere con le proprie sole forze un solco profondo nella storia del dark in senso ampio. -Matteo Meda

  4. Reviews Editor

    From Gothic Paradise

    The feat that this band pulls off with each release is amazing. The way they capture the same dark and medieval flair in all of their tracks and all of the band’s incarnations over the years is great. This album is a true testament to the talent and creativity that Michael and all of his guests and band members have contributed over the years as they capture fifteen years’ worth of cover versions that they’ve recorded in the past and also including new creations for this album. With the bonus tracks we have 90 minutes of music across 25 amazing cover tracks.

    It’s hard to know where to even start with a review of this album. We can’t possibly cover all 25 selections here, so I’ll try to just summarize and touch on my thoughts on the album overall and highlight a few of the new favorites. As previously mentioned, it’s amazing you can so easily tell on each track that this is definitely Unto Ashes. Despite the diverse source material ranging from classic icons like New Order, Christian Death, Sisters of Mercy and Current 93 to including covers from New Order, Covenant, Depeche Mode, The Cure and even Van Halen. Many of these tracks we’ve heard and enjoyed on past releases which have become quick favorites of mine and our readers and listeners such as the covers of “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, “Kathy’s Song”, “Palestinalied”, “The Drowning Man” and “One World One Sky”. While the songs are easily recognized if the listener is familiar with the original, I find it interesting how they then put that medieval twist on them. I used to mix the two versions of “One World One Sky” as a DJ and had a lot of fun with that mash-up and others could be done as well.

    As far as new or unfamiliar covers that I hadn’t heard before this release, there are some good outstanding pieces as well. It was interesting to hear the obscure track “The Him” from New Order covered with upbeat rhythms and percussion while still maintaining that classic sound. The cover of “Cavity (1st Communion)” from Christian Death is one of the most modern and gothic rock sounding tracks from this band, including heavy rock drums instead of the medieval percussion we normally hear from this group making this one of the most diverse track from this band. The album drifts along softly into “The Cursing Song” from Current 93, presented with female vocals in a softer, classic ethereal folk style fans of the softer side of this project can really enjoy. The cover of Tori Amos’ short track “Beauty Queen” is another great example of this more beautiful ethereal side of the band. As we get to Van Halen’s track “Runnin’ With The Devil” it just doesn’t surprise me anymore the different takes on the original we’re presented with. This one is presented as a beautiful downtempo, medieval piece with soft female vocals for a nice ethereal touch. This fades directly into another favorite piece on this album with “The Birds Are Dying” from Paul Leary/Butthole Surfers. With the heavy cello and other strings we’re presented with a dark neo-classical sound on this piece with soft duet vocals for a real treat.

    While there are many more noteworthy tracks, I believe that gives the reader a good taste of what we’re presented on this album. A great diversity for fans of many genres new and old spanning several decades and genres from new wave, punk, gothic and rock. The music blends and mixes well and is presented as only Unto Ashes can do. Fans will definitely want this album to add to their collection of great music. Rating: 4.5/5 -Jacob Bogedahl

  5. Reviews Editor

    From The Austin Chronicle

    Gothic, electronic, madrigal: The distinctive vision of Lockhart’s Michael Laird swirls through a catalog of seven beguiling LPs bewitched by centuries-old traditions. His band’s first compilation, Ghosts Captured turns on an axis of pop/rock covers found on prior platters. A few pieces of low-hanging fruit aside (the Cure; fellow travelers Current 93 and Qntal; Projekt labelmates Lycia), the set list takes stylistically incompatible standards and gives them radical but reverent reinterpretations. Filtered through Laird’s pagan prism, New Order’s “The Him” transforms into a haunted hymn, while Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” becomes a droning communion with a melancholy spirit. Unto Ashes lifts the melody from Norwegian synth-pop troop Apoptygma Berzerk’s “Kathy’s Song” and turns it into gorgeous folk, and filters the Butthole Surfers’ “The Birds Are Dying” through a choral-enhanced string section. Ethereal acoustic versions of Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and Van Halen’s “Runnin’ With the Devil” nets two more Ghosts Captured. -Michael Toland

  6. Reviews Editor

    From Sounds Behind the Corner

    L’idea di un signore d’altri tempi è la vera impressione di chi sia veramente Unto Ashes: musicista e mercante di libri antichi, solitario nella sua campagna gotica ‘yankee’, riservato ma non ostile, gentile figura d’altri tempi, bellezza ed introspezione artistica, sui palchi o chiuso nella sua casa di campagna ritirandosi dal rumore, dal backstage per rinvigorire lo spirito all’interno di una tana.

    La sua…

    Unto Ashes è credibile e sincera è la sua musica ogni volta in cui esce, senza scalpore o rumore come solo lui riesce a fare, un nuovo disco, amato dai colleghi e dai palati più raffinati del folk-underground d’Oltreoceano: solitario ma non emarginandosi dal mondo della sua arte, capace di dare e ricevere collaborazioni, capace di assaggiare la storia della musica underground in mille sfaccettature, “Ghosts Captured” ne è testimonianza, album tributo con le sue diciotto cover che divengono venticinque nella versione digitale.

    Credibile anche nel rivedere la musica di altri musicisti, aperto come un ragazzo cresciuto che si prende il lusso di rileggere vecchie canzoni di colleghi lui vicino o i miti della giovinezza, dando nuova brillantezza o solamente una versione personale a brani da tutti voi conosciuti: scorrete la tracklist.

    Credibile nel rimanere dentro la sua personale aurea artistica, componendo ovattature dove il brano originale non perde la sua essenza ma incontra la vita nuova, che sia il rock duro dei Blue Oyster Cult, la ritmica danceable di un brano indimenticabile come “Kathy’s Song” degli Apoptygma Berzerk o le psicosi Current 93 in ben due brani o “Ostia” dei Coil, Unto Ashes vanta una composizione del suono capace di rimanere all’interno di una sfera di luce irradiata, ammansendo le rabbia (“Cavity” dei Christian Death o “The Him” dei New Order abbandonano ma non del tutto le proprie nevrosi nichilistiche).

    Michael Laird è un domatore dell’irrequietezza, a due anni da Burials Foretold un album di cover non solo è tributo a leggende del rock ma il fiorire di fiori con altri colori, fragranze, corolle che dischiudono nel novilunio piuttosto che in pieno sole.

    Nelle sue corde invece brani di Qntal (così vicini al suo essere a tratti ‘fairy’) o Tori Amos e Neil Young, folk-singers con altri colori ma folk-singers: ognuno percorre il suo sentiero nel sottobosco calpestando le foglie o muovendo con cautela ogni passo, scricchiolando in solitudine o baldanzoso ma viandante sempre.

    Unto Ashes alla fine cos’è se non un viandante?

    Ghosts Captured è il canto del viandante, canti di altri pellegrini narrati con le voci di un pellegrino che iniziò questo percorso nel 1999 con le prime rivisitazioni; ora, dopo quindici anni, pronto con le sue visioni, narrando l’oscurità al raggio di una pallida luna americana. -Nicola Tenani

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