“Endless Skies”’ by ASHBURY has been one of my favorite obscure albums since the first time I ever listened to it some 15 years ago or maybe even more. Since then I’ve seen them performing live in Athens, interviewed them for a past publication, talked to them via email, I own their two previous albums, even the collectible first vinyl edition of “Endless Skies” and proudly wear their t-shirts. So, I’m as biased as it can get, but I’ll be very frank about the band’s long awaited third album.
But first let’s get one thing straight. This is not by any means a heavy metal album. ASHBURY never was a heavy metal band and never claimed to be. They formed in the late 70’s as ASHBURY SOUTH and played a brand of southern rock influenced by bands like LYNYRD SKYNYRD, MOLLY HATCHET, WISHBONE ASH, DIRE STRAITS and oddly enough JETHRO TULL. Their 1983 debut contained all those influences, a totally 70’s sound, tons of acoustic guitars, wonderful melodic electric guitar playing and just a couple of riffs that could be loosely connected to the early heavy metal of the time. But anyone remotely aware of southern rock could hear the way the band climaxed semi ballad songs like “Madman” and “Mystery man” into a guitar solos frenzy, a structure typically found in iconic southern rock songs like “Free As A Bird”, “Highway Song” etc.
After their debut the band broke up and many years later a huge buzz was created among heavy metal vinyl collectors about this band that had released a great album with a mystical cover, depicting a magician looking down from the mountains over a village. This buzz led to ASHBURY being miscategorized as proto-metal or crossover hard/heavy metal, and worshipped by countless nostalgic metalheads that found themselves listening to 70’s hard rock and loving it like a part of their 80’s heavy metal collection. This in turn led to the band being resurrected by the Davis brothers. In 2004 they put out their 2nd self financed album, “Something Funny Going On” (later officially rereleased in 2010); a release that preserved the bands trademark sound and had its special moments, but lacked the impact, freshness and inspiration of the debut and suffered from a low budget production. Nevertheless the train was back on tracks. Demand from retro heavy metal festivals was tremendous and in the following years ASHBURY played or even headlined plenty of them, including events like Keep it True, Hammmer of Doom, Frost & Fire, Harder Than Steel, Muskelrock, Defenders of the Old etc.
Fast forward to 2018, ASHBURY are back with a third album. And this time it’s been worth the wait. Nothing has changed musically and that’s great. The songs though are better crafted compared to the second album, displaying more of their potential. The sound quality has improved but it’s still that of a studio project compared to the 1983 band effort and a couple of songs seem to lack some punch, but there’s some great material here.
“Good Guitar” is a nice example of the band’s southern rock roots, showing their rockier side. “Summer Fades Away” and next track “Celtic Cross” blend together smoothly as they share a similar melodic and nostalgic vibe, the first one performed in an acoustic vein and the second one with electric guitars. The fifth track, “Waited So Long” is probably the opus of the album, with a mesmerising acoustic intro, warm vocals and great solos, clocking in at 9 minutes. “Searchin” is another laid back piece with nice guitar work. And the title track is definitely the most epic song, lyrically based on the story of Perseus, the Greek mythic hero, who on his quest to kill Medusa had to obtain the secret whereabouts of the Medusa from the three Graeae, three sisters and perpetually old women, who shared a single eye among them. By stealing their eye while they were passing it among themselves, Perseus forced them to tell him the whereabouts of Medusa. This incident is shown on the epic album cover and referenced on the album/song title (hence this little lesson in mythology).
At the end of the day it’s a good album with the trademark ASHBURY sound and addictive melodies that will appeal to the fans the band. It’s not metal but to some degree it leans towards the epic side of 70’s hard rock. I only wish the band had opted for real drums instead of programmed, it takes away some points from the quality of the album; secondly I feel the overall performances are a little bit restrained, like the band didn’t want to let go, get a little risky and give it 101%, especially vocally. But those seem like minor details when we’ve waited so long for this wonderful band to come back with new music.