One of the real tests of instrumental music is its ability to convey narrative. Stripped of lyrics, and the natural focal point of a vocalist, the importance of the music actually putting across something concrete and captivating either comes to the fore; or, in the case of ambient music, is all-but disregarded. With Ceremony in the Stillness, the latest album from A-Sun Amissa, that challenge is not only embraced, but met in superb style. The combination of doom-drone influenced auras, post-rock soundscapes, and haunting dark ambience is loaded with emotion, and moves with a sense of story-telling that is too rare in instrumental music. Most records of this style hint at the idea of having a running theme; but on Ceremony in the Stillness, that sense of narrative is impossible to ignore.
When I say that Ceremony in the Stillness is an album that tells a story, I don’t mean that it does so in some conventional beginning-middle-end structure. Rather, the sense is that what it puts across is only part of a larger picture, a chapter in a wider tale rather than the whole opus. The way that opener ‘The Black Path’ draws the listener in with its spacious, drone-drenched tones, slowly building up the song in a manner that’s equal parts post-rock and later-day Earth; the crashing guitar riffs of ‘To the Ashes’ that compliment its mournful melody; and the post-indsutrial, dark ambiance of ‘The Skulk’, that’s like some warped version of dark jazz playing in the ruins of a desolate city; all of these aspects are only part of the story. It makes Ceremony in the Stillness feel like the kind of album that is engaged in world-building, but in a subtle manner, only ever hinting at things, letting the audience put the wider picture together themselves.
Not that this should imply in any way that the fourth record from A-Sun Amissa is lacking anything. Musically and emotionally, it is a captivating, emotionally charged piece of work, especially when the contributions of guests such as David McLean (saxophone) and Jo Quail (electric cello) are introduced, complementing an already vast range of sounds and tones (musically and emotionally). Ceremony in the Stillness is an album that will your time ravenously, hours and evenings gladly being lost to its captivating ambience and bleak story-telling.
WHilst previous A-Sun Amissa releases have been heavy on atmosphere, Ceremony in the Stillness feels like their most song-based effort yet; not that it embraces conventional structures, but the songs feel more tangible than before. They are still haunted by ethereal spirits, heavy in atmosphere and emotion; but Ceremony in the Stillness also feels more accessible than previous efforts. It is a dark, beautiful album, loaded with emotion; and also the sense that it is tapping in to something greater than itself. It is an incredibly inspirational album, one that stirs the creative soul within the listener, and that it makes me want to create something of my own is, perhaps, the greatest possible praise that can be lavished upon the album. This is something special.