ReviewWhile looking deeper into crust, I happened across Oakland, California's Embers. Their first full-length, Shadows, is available for pay-what-you-want download through their Bandcamp page.
Picture the last smoldering remnants of a great fire, a destructive force depleted by exhaustion. At times, it crackles, threatening resurgence, and new fires ignite in the distance, burning and killing with the capriciousness of nature. Now imagine the soundtrack to that scene.
After a drone intro, they lead in with "Eucharist", a deceptively slow and doom-oriented track. Most choose to lead with energy, but any place later in the album and it would have sapped their momentum. As it is, it's a perfect starting point, illustrating each element of their style. Eerie synths add morose drama anchored by fully audible bass. Tremolo-picked or sloppy/heavy crust riffs drive it forward, with angry or depressive chords as appropriate. The natural-sounding drums are clearly in punk territory, but the vocals--black metal rasps and death growls--are clearly in the land of metal. Other tracks (e.g. "Dreams") could also fall into doom territory, but others (e.g. "Plague") are much more clearly crust. They always blur the lines. All of it is ugly, and filled with rage frustrated by powerlessness. (Don't ask me if that's what the words say--I have no idea. That is what the music says.)
The sound is absolutely unique, but comparisons could be drawn to such diverse bands as Ludicra, Gallhammer, Mar De Grises, and Emperor.
I do have two complaints, but they're minor. First, I'm not sure which is the real album art--the one shown on the Bandcamp page or the one in the file. Second is the viola-infused bonus track. And that's not because it's bad. In fact, it may be one of the best tracks on the album, but it doesn't fit quite so well with the rest. I've always disliked bonus tracks, but when you're offering the album up as pay-what-you-want there's even less reason to include it. Put it on a separate single or EP next time.
The Verdict: This is way too good to be free, but you can get it for free if you want. I suggest you throw a few bucks their way, and download it as soon as you can. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.