Unto Ashes: Orchids Grew Here (CD / Digital)

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Product Description

1 Even in Our Sleep (Aeschylus)
2 Calendar Leaves
3 A Song of Rain
4 I Will Never Die
5 Let My Heart Remain Cold
6 I Became a Ghost Today
7 Orchids Fade
8 Light of Asia (Book VIII)
9 Frozen (Madonna cover)
10 Passing
11 Starfish
12 Last Toast

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Information in English here. Click to order CD.

Genres: Apocalyptic Folk, Darkwave, Neoclassical
For fans of: Qntal, Estampie, Audra, Love is Colder Than Death, Ophelia’s Dream


Inspired by a resplendent tapestry of apocalyptic folk, gothic, and neoclassical influences, Unto Ashes’ first album in four years is an enigmatic excursion into existential terror; of bliss and tragedy; of love and beauty; of hope in the face of universal void. To quote Aeschylus (whose words appear in the first song), Orchids Grew Here is tantamount to an exploration into “the awful grace of God.”


The twelve illuminated sound-paintings are both enchanted and enchanting — they venture into a future of non-existence from a garden of withered orchids to interstellar black holes. The band’s eleventh Projekt Records album is alive with delicate instrumentation sown with poetic narratives of philosophical and romantic musing.


The synergy of core members Michael Laird, Bret Helm, and Ericah Hagle is expressed in soft, at times haunting vocals, wandering through panoramas of passion, darkness, and introspection. Lead vocalist Laird has a soft, redolent voice conjuring the spirit of Nick Drake. Helm’s distinctive voice is reminiscent of Peter Murphy, and Hagle’s complex, ethereal harmonies appear prominently as soloist on “Starfish.”


Unto Ashes was founded in 1997 by multi-instrumentalist Laird. Through his work as an antiquarian bibliographer, he discovered many obscure texts that continue to inspire his music. This album offers passages from Aeschylus, the founder of tragedy (Greece, 525 BCE – 465 BCE), Christina Rossetti (England, 1830-1894), Edwin Arnold (England, 1832-1904), Ethel Clifford (England, 1876-1959) and Anna Akhmatova (Russia, 1889-1966).


A less obscure text is found on the indelible cover of Madonna’s “Frozen” reimagined with waves of acoustic guitar, fervent vocals from Helm, and an Arabic-sounding cello duet.


With uncanny alchemy of instrumentation ranging from the medieval (hurdy-gurdy, viola da gamba, dulcimers) to the modern (analog synthesizers, tape loops, etc.) and bewitching vocals, Unto Ashes delivers mystery, elegance, melancholy, and — ultimately — triumph.

Projekt release: August 11 2023

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Reviews

  1. Reviews Editor

    From Exposé
    Hello darkness, my old friend, I’m living inside your world once again. Unto Ashes is the New York City based band / project of Michael Laird, or at least it once was. Apparently at some point he moved to Europe following a tour of those parts, where the group was well received. The group was originally formed in the late 90s, and over the years has seen a lot of turnover in its ranks, the one constant being Laird (multi-instrumentalist, chief songwriter, singer); on Orchids Grew Here, the other members are Bret Helm and Ericah Hagle, and while no specific information is given as to who plays what and when, the instrumental palette is a balance of dark folk styles, informed by neoclassical and gothic elements, plus medieval and modern instrumentation and poetic lyrics expressing a world of joy and pain and everything in between — a dark and beautiful tapestry.

    One might liken their sound to a mashup of ESP-era Pearls Before Swine, Dead Can Dance, and Nick Drake with a strong element of darkwave, and on tracks where Hagle sings lead (“Starfish” for example) the vocals take on a fragile and delicate tone. Instruments may include guitars, analog and diginal synthesizers, viola da gamba, cello, hurdy gurdy, santoor, dulcimer, and possibly some software instruments as well — based on what I hear only, as few details are provided; instrumentation tends toward the sparse and delicate, strong on atmospherics and beauty. All the tracks are original with the exception of a Madonna cover (“Frozen” — I didn’t even recognize it on hearing) and there are a number of very strong pieces here. Including the opener “Even in Our Sleep,” “Passing,” “I Became a Ghost Today,” “A Song of Rain,” “Light of Asia (Book VIII),” “Orchids Fade,” and more. There are a dozen songs in all, every one either dark, pensive, introspective, forlorn… or sometimes all of the above, and hauntingly beautiful each in its own way. Drink thy poison, and prepare for the adventure that begins at the link below. -Peter Thelen

  2. Reviews Editor

    From Ondarock
    Through their first works, Unto Ashes established themselves as one of the best gothic groups of the beginning of the century, not only on American soil: their style, often poised between a funereal neofolk, darkwave thrusts and a never-too-veiled devotion to the Dead Can Dance has always stood out for its sober elegance and an intellectual substratum rich in cultured quotations. Now, four years after the modest Pretty Haunted Things (2019), the creation of multi-instrumentalist Michael Laird tries to get back into the game, again with the support of Sam Rosenthal’s Projekt.

    Orchids Grew Here represents a sort of hermetic exploration of existential terror: bliss, tragedy, love, beauty but also hope, in the face of the great universal void that suffocates us on a daily basis. With the acoustic notes of “Even In Our Sleep”, the words of the playwright Aeschylus take us into this awful grace of God, along a mysterious and enigmatic path in a garden where the orchids have now withered. The subsequent “Calendar Leaves” reiterates the strong dark-folk component of the album, a more essential and less stratified work compared to the exhilarating experiences of the beginning, when Unto Ashes’ proposal was strongly imbued with Renaissance poetics and neoclassical inspirations. Michael Laird, however, already from the skeletal essence of The Blood Of My Lady (2009), had begun to reason by subtraction, even due to causes of force majeure (Natalie Lincoln’s defection). The new album can therefore attract those who appreciated the more intimate turning point of the American musician, beyond some good compositions which objectively really make the difference (“Let My Heart Remain Cold” is a combination of triumph and melancholy, in the wake of the best Death In June). -Paolo Chemnitz

    Original italian:
    Attraverso i loro primi lavori, gli Unto Ashes si sono affermati come una delle migliori realtà gothic di inizio secolo, non solo in terra americana: il loro stile, spesso in bilico tra un funereo neofolk, affondi darkwave e una devozione mai troppo velata per i Dead Can Dance, si è sempre distinto per una sobria eleganza e per un substrato intellettuale ricco di colte citazioni. Adesso, quattro anni dopo il modesto Pretty Haunted Things (2019), la creatura del polistrumentista Michael Laird tenta di rimettersi in gioco, sempre con il supporto della Projekt di Sam Rosenthal.

    Orchids Grew Here rappresenta una sorta di ermetica esplorazione del terrore esistenziale: beatitudine, tragedia, amore, bellezza ma anche speranza, davanti al grande vuoto universale che ci soffoca quotidianamente. Con le note acustiche di “Even In Our Sleep”, le parole del drammaturgo Eschilo ci inoltrano in questa awful grace of God, per un cammino misterioso nonché enigmatico in un giardino dove le orchidee sono ormai appassite. La successiva “Calendar Leaves” ribadisce la forte componente dark-folk dell’album, un lavoro più essenziale e meno stratificato rispetto alle esaltanti esperienze degli esordi, quando la proposta degli Unto Ashes era fortemente imbevuta di poetica rinascimentale e di afflati neoclassici. Michael Laird, tuttavia, già dalla scheletrica essenza di The Blood Of My Lady (2009), aveva cominciato a ragionare per sottrazione, anche per cause di forza maggiore (la defezione di Natalie Lincoln). Il nuovo disco può dunque attirare chi ha apprezzato la svolta più intima del musicista statunitense, al di là di alcune buone composizioni che oggettivamente fanno davvero la differenza (“Let My Heart Remain Cold” è un connubio di trionfo e malinconia, sulla scia dei migliori Death In June). -Paolo Chemnitz

  3. reviews editor

    From I die you die

    I’ll level with you, dear listeners: I’m suffering from a nasty bit of food poisoning right now and it’s taken a round out of me. I’m weak, frail, and even the most ordinary of feelings seem just a bit…louder or heavier right now. And as it happens, that sense of vulnerability likely puts me in an ideal position to be listening to and discussing the latest record from longstanding NY darkwave act, Unto Ashes.

    Without breaking from the traditions and influences set forth by Michael Laird & co. some twenty-plus years ago, Orchids Grew Here has enough variety and quality to sate die-hards as well as give newcomers a representative understanding of why the group is one of the most beloved acts associated with Projekt Records. You have the tremoring neoclassical sounds which earned their early work comparisons to Dead Can Dance, brooding neofolk, and pieces entirely of Unto Ashes’ own tradition, often combining a wounded frailty with an intimacy which can at times be overwhelming.

    In both content and delivery, it’s a listen which ranks with the band’s best work. “Let My Heart Remain Cold” and “Calendar Leaves” have a stoic and strident neofolk approach which acknowledges Death In June on one hand, but also breaks from that tradition by eschewing its miasmas of fog and estrangement, with Laird’s plaintive and direct vocals. Subtle arrangement and production choices bolster things as well; is the room hum captured in the back of the mix of opening track “Even In Our Sleep (Aeschylus)” meant to suggest a quiet stream as the piece begins to accrue more and more layers of dulcimer? Maybe, but either way it adds an earthy dimension to the otherwise gossamer piece.

    The enunciation and delivery of Orchids Grew Here‘s themes and lyrics is varied enough to keep things from ever feeling repetitive (though it’s certainly a unified enough listen). There’s certainly something funereal about the icy synths and refrain of “our lovely garden is dying” on “Orchids Fade”, but as Laird, Bret Helm, and Ericah Hagle all intone the titular phrase, there’s almost a sense of morbid or botanical fascination with the procession of the inevitable. As to how a band with those poetics might approach a cover of Madge’s “Frozen”, well, I’ll let you discover that on your own. Set Orchids Grew Here aside for your next John Keats-esque convalescence, but don’t be surprised if it finds its way on even in moments of vigor.

  4. Reviews Editor

    From Rock Portaal
    Describing the music of Unto Ashes remains quite an undertaking. The band cannot be caught under a denominator. The music wanders between (neo)folk, medieval, wave and singer-songwriter. What, as on previous releases, remains present on Orchids Grew Here is the fragile beauty. The subdued musical support ensures that Michael Laird, Bret Helm and Ericah Hagle get plenty of vocal space. The greatest merit of Unto Ashes is that the band constantly manages to bring a high level. They do this by bringing sophisticated, cleverly written and well-executed songs. That quality remains proud. Whether one draws the typical neo-folk card as on Let My Heart Remain Gold or opts for the melancholic approach on I Became a Ghost Today or Starfish. It remains remarkable that music with so little instrumental support has so much expressiveness. Now Unto Ashes is also known for its covers of well-known songs. This time Frozen by Madonna gets a typical Unto Ashes approach. Not such an original choice, but again a separate version. In the end, however, it is the other eleven songs that make the most impression. With Orchids Grew Here Unto Ashes proves that they are still among the best when it comes to elegant and melancholy music. -Ron Schoonwater

    Original Dutch:
    De muziek omschrijven van Unto Ashes blijft een hele onderneming. De band laat zich namelijk niet onder een noemer vangen. De muziek zwerft tussen (neo-)folk, middeleeuws, wave en singer-songwriter in. Wat, net als op eerdere releases, aanwezig blijft op Orchids Grew Here is de kwetsbare schoonheid. De ingetogen muzikale ondersteuning zorgt ervoor dat Michael Laird, Bret Helm en Ericah Hagle vocaal alle ruimte krijgen. De grootste verdienste van Unto Ashes is dat de band constant een hoog niveau weet te brengen. Dit doet men door uitgekiende, slim geschreven en goed uitgevoerde nummers te brengen. Die kwaliteit blijft fier overeind. Of men nu de typische neo-folk kaart trekt zoals op Let My Heart Remain Gold of juist kiest voor de melancholische aanpak op I Became a Ghost Today of Starfish. Het blijft opmerkelijk dat muziek met zo weinig instrumentale ondersteuning juist zoveel zeggingskracht heeft. Nu staat Unto Ashes ook bekend om haar covers van bekende nummers. Deze keer krijgt Frozen van Madonna een typische Unto Ashes aanpak. Niet zo’n originele keuze, maar wel weer een aparte uitvoering. Uiteindelijk zijn het echter de overige elf nummers die de meeste indruk maken. Met Orchids Grew Here bewijst Unto Ashes dat zij nog steeds tot de top behoren als het gaat om elegante en melancholische muziek. -Ron Schoonwater

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