The key component in heaviness isn’t volume. It’s not how fast you play or what tuning you use. It’s not the distortion pedal or the degree to which your vocalist sounds like he’s passing a kidney stone. Those are all perfectly valid measures, of course; you can’t sound all that heavy if you aren’t playing with a beefy rig or screaming like your fingernails are being slowly removed. Ultimately, however, it all comes down to rhythmic technique, and more specifically, how that rhythm allows each moment to land. You can’t be a heavy band if you’re chooglin’ along—every riff has to arrive like it’s tearing through the fabric of time and space, or at least making a solid effort to do so.
That’s, in essence, how Iowa City’s Aseethe operates. They’re a doom metal band that moves at the pace of death itself, stalking with the terror and menace of a b-movie slasher. You can see the devastation coming, yet the climax is no less exciting once it finally finds its slow-mo conclusion. On Hopes of Failure, the band’s Thrill Jockey debut, the band splits four songs across 42 minutes, each one stretching out and unfolding at the pace that water freezes into solid crystals. It tests patience, yes, but it’s also insanely heavy stuff. Majestically, powerfully, uncompromisingly heavy.
The heaviness inherent to Hopes of Failure is tied directly to how slowly Aseethe plays each track, but also with the impact in which each measure arrives. That has a lot to do with drummer Eric Diercks, who fills the spaces between Brian and Danny Barr’s crushing melodies. Those drums are brutal; each snap of Diercks’ snare is like a right hook to the kisser. Yet that also makes their crushingly massive form of doom all the more effective as a result. With softer, more restrained drums, Aseethe might ultimately be just a slow rock band, albeit one that favors the low end of the tuning spectrum. But rhythmically they’re far more confrontational—they violate your meat space.
To focus strictly on Aseethe’s physical presence, however, overlooks the more interesting melodic choices they take on. The boldest of those choices are to be found in the two longest songs on the album, opener “Sever the Head” and closer “Into the Sun.” Where the latter transitions between open-space devastation and a more dazzling display of arpeggios, the former is the band’s most anthemic track, descending from an ominous first half into a more melodic and even surprisingly catchy tail end. For a few moments, the beauty outweighs the intensity. It’s mellifluous, stunning. It’s an entirely different measure of heaviness, but one that devastates in its own unique way.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.