Review: Ashbringer – Absolution
Humans bad. Nature good.
Absolution is Ashbringer‘s third record, but the first I’ve heard of them. They officially play atmospheric black metal, although I really feel a need to cram the word “post” somewhere in that tag. In fact, I think this is more post- than black metal; apart from the preoccupation with nature’s beauty and the occasional riff, there aren’t many hallmarks of black metal to be found here. The tempo is slow all throughout, and the vocals are more of a gruff shout than the typical shriek. The overall atmosphere sits somewhere between the depressive, blackgaze-y style of Morild and the meandering, progressive leanings of Voragine of Autumn (and could probably be described more aptly via bands I haven’t reviewed, but who cares about those). If that description has you keen, then go ahead and dive right in before I cloud your mind by talking about the problems I have with the album.
The title track and “Wilderness Walk” waste little time before establishing two of the pillars of the album’s sound, namely a certain drum beat and a certain type of riff. While you will not find a single blast beat on here, what you will find frequently is a sort of “jazzy” (for lack of better knowledge of musical theory) beat that is filled to the brim with ghost notes on the snare drum. This is normally something I can enjoy… if it’s done well. Unfortunately, Ashbringer’s drummer doesn’t seem super comfortable with this style of playing. The result often comes off sloppy and a little out of whack, so much so that it becomes distracting.
The second characteristic of the album is that it’s chock-full of melancholy, which is sometimes expressed in accoustic parts and a bit of piano work, but mainly finds manifestation in mournfully melodic riffs played exclusively on the bottom strings. Especially in these first two tracks, these high-pitched, needling notes became a little grating to me. While the effect was exacerbated at the time by mediocre audio equipment, it only made me bristle slightly less on subsequent spins, and the frequency with which these same-sounding riffs occur throughout the record makes it seem like the band is trying to paint big-ass canvases (no song is less than seven minutes, so the album clocks in at about 70 minutes) with a pretty limited palette.
It’s not all bad though. The general lack of tempo changes is made up for with changes in dynamic range via the aforementioned quieter parts, which mostly work well. While the resigned mood of the music is consistent throughout, it’s not like songs don’t evolve continuously through subtle shifts. In short, the album never really deserves to be rated “boring,” especially not during its second half. Here, “Eternal Seperation Pt. 1” stands out by briefly increasing the speed, and part two employs ambient and guitar effects to a much better end than than thrid song “Dreamscapes” did, where they seemed a little aimless, if not downright ham-fisted. Finally, Ashbringer even manage to pull off a long instrumental track. “Spiritual Architecture” highlights their compositional skills in the way it slowly unfolds and refuses, unlike some of the other songs, to be hurried from one part to the next. It also has probably the best use of piano on the whole record. The song’s enjoyable qualities carry over into the intro of the closer, which then unfortunately proceeds to let the album end on a fizzle rather than a bang.
Summing up, I’m somewhat puzzled by Absolution. Here’s where it would come in handy to know if the other two full-lengths are marred by equally questionable stylistic choices; as it is, I’m gonna judge them as symptoms of the band pushing themselves out of their comfort zone in an honest effort to branch out. I’m pretty confident they’ll iron out a lot of kinks on future releases. For this one though, there’s about as many things I enjoy as things that greatly bug me, so it lands squarely in the middle and gets
2.5 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets
Absolution is out now via Prosthetic Records.