I think it was only a matter of time before a quality label like Cyclic Law would become interested in this shamanic approach to ambient. With 'Rites I & II', the first installment of a series, Ashtoreth delivers a long ceremony and a deep meditation.
'Rite I: Earth' opens with heavy guitars and powerful vocals. When I heard these for the first time, I wasn't sure if I was listening to Ashtoreth or to an intro for a Conan album. This is a somewhat different approach from the slowly in-fading soundscapes. But mostly, it immediately grabs the listener's attention for its brutalist approach. Gradually, however, the track evolves. The distortion fades away and other soundscapes appear. They sound like the breathing of the earth. Then, hints of melody appear, in perfect Ashtoreth tradition. In a way, this first track feels like a journey from something bad and scary to a feeling of piece of serenity.
'Rite II: Fire' is somewhat shorter but still long enough to be a narrative drone ambient highlight. It drives on gloomy drones and shamanic voices, a bit like we're used from Peter Verwimp by now, but let that not be a turn-off. This track is downright eerie, a perfect addition to the heaps of dark ambient masterpieces released by Cyclic Law. So yes, this is a stunning piece of work and it comes with equally stunning artwork by GootSlaper. I don't think this needs much more explanation. 'Rites I & II' is one of those albums that deserve a spot in your ever widening and mind-altering collection.
p.s. It's also wildly inspiring music for writers. I know from experience...