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The Longest View In The Room: Aseethe

by Karlee Barr
by Karlee Barr

Brian Barr is nothing if not patient. Nothing about his art or his life seems rushed. When asked a question he takes a long but comfortable pause to organize his thoughts. Outside of a brief stint in the Bay Area in 2008, Barr has lived a remarkably consistent lifestyle, working as production manager for a screen printing company for the last ten years while producing music on the side as part of Aseethe. Both his day job, and his band’s self-reliance are results of Barr’s time in the hardcore punk scene, where he taught himself how to screenprint his own merchandise. Barr continues to do all of Aseethe’s artistic design to this day, effectively cutting out the middleman. The band has steadily made their way to nine releases of punishingly slow doom metal and harsh noise. This steady lifestyle is a far cry from the “strike while the iron is hot” mentally that many musicians fall victim to. Instead, Aseethe are built to last.

Their music is just as focused on the long view. On their newest album, Hopes Of Failure, Aseethe inch along at a snail’s pace from riff to riff. The sound is simultaneously wide open and suffocating, each note hangs in the air and decays before being replaced or repeated.

“We rely on how things sound and how things resonate,” Barr told me over the phone. “The riffs are pretty straightforward and simple. Like Hendrix said, it’s the sounds between the notes that are important.”

The riffs may be simple, but the sound is not. By mixing the discipline of metal’s slowest, and oldest, subgenre with the raw intensity of noise, Aseethe tap into the primal joy of heavy music that completely overwhelms audience members.

“Since we play pretty depressive music, I do like hearing that people are physically exhausted by it, because that’s the way I feel. If people feel the same, then I’ve done what I set out to do.”

Started as a solo project while Barr was still involved in the Bay Area hardcore scene, paling around with the similarly exhausting Loma Prieta, Aseethe have evolved into a full band including Barr’s younger brother Danny and drummer Eric Diercks. The band also used to feature a full time synthesizer and sampler, but they’ve recently scaled back to a more traditional metal lineup.

“We used to have noise going constantly,” Barr laughs. “It was almost like a noise band with a doom band playing underneath.”

Aseethe planned on keeping that wall of sound on Hopes Of Failure but once they had finished recording the basic instruments for the record they decided that adding more layers would only dilute the work that they had done. The resulting album focuses more on the band’s metal side, but keeps their emphasis on texture and atmosphere intact. Instead of drowning the album with more sounds for the sake of it, they’ve simplified their approach and better represented their notoriously taxing live sound.

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“The tendency is sometimes, and we’ve done this, we’re guilty of it, to go ‘this sounds so cool, what if we add more?’ Reverent Burden was definitely like that, we had so many tracks and so much noise. But at this point in the game I feel like we know what we’re doing and that we wouldn’t do anything we felt was a mistake.”

That confidence and self-awareness is apparent in Hopes Of Failure’s methodical pacing and direct arrangements, but also in its thematic consistency. Aseethe are part of a long line of metal bands, dating all the way back to Black Sabbath, that tackle the looming threat of environmental disaster in the work. Their lyrics, penned by both Barr brothers, paint an impressionistic picture of mankind slowly losing touch with the natural world to calamitous results. Once again, this is where Barr’s eye on the long road is most noticeable.

“One of the biggest things for me when I was having political discussions was seeing that the thing that people cared about the most was getting tax breaks, to me the biggest thing is the environment because climate change is the biggest threat to us and the planet.”

Doom metal, especially the minimal variety that Aseethe play on Hopes Of Failure, is tailor made for evoking forces larger than life. The slow tempo and repetition forces a meditative state, one that bends time away from the now and into the indeterminate future. At this pace the intense volume doesn’t just have a physical and emotional effect, but a representative one. Aseethe paint an image of a landscape in a state of irreparable decay, an image that carries over to Hopes Of Failure’s promotional imagery and its album art, designed by Barr himself.

Hopes of Failure cover

“It’s not a direct pointed thing, but I’ve always enjoyed using more nature in our artwork and visuals, partially because people are drawn to that and there’s so much to work with. Nature can be beautiful even at its most ugly, like an old tree falling apart.”

The cover depicts a woman made of stone staring at her hand while she breaks apart into dust. There’s an air of tragedy to the image, as well as to the softer side of Aseethe’s music, but more than anything the cover suggests hopelessness.

“You know there’s a problem, but you just don’t have the will to fix it. People don’t want to give up their conveniences to change the situation. People don’t usually want to admit that they’re wrong or that they made a mistake, it could be a hard pill to swallow for people,” Barr says before admitting that he’s as much a part of the problem as anyone else. “I drive to work every day. I could move closer to my job if I really wanted to. People think that it’s hyperbole or that it’s not that bad or that someone will come along and fix it. It’s hard for people to look 20 years down.”

If the world lasts long enough for people to change their tune, Aseethe will be waiting for them, patiently waiting with riffs in hand.

Hopes Of Failure is out now on Thrill Jockey. Follow Aseethe on Facebook.

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