Atmospheric black metal band Ashbringer delivers darkness with debut full-length ‘Vacant’

AshbringerBeing that we’ve been on a kick lately of weather-related posts, I’ve come to understand my first foray into the woods is long overdue. How is that possible? We’re about a month away from summer starting officially, and I have yet to make a trek into the local wooded areas for a return to nature.

Often those trips involve me bringing suitable music along, and a new gem in the form of Ashbringer’s “Vacant” feels like proper accompaniment as I disappear into the hills and trees. A relatively new project, Ashbringer has all the elements of quality folk-infused black metal, with rustic roots, savagery when the moment strikes, and vocals that go back and forth from utterly violent to solemnly calm. This six-cut, 43-minute first full-length is dosed just right, and the music here helps you flow from movement to movement, where you go on a mini-adventure into the outdoors and reconnect with your more primal self. This feels like an album that would be right at home on the Bindrune Recordings label, as they fit right along with their bands aesthetically (instead Avantgarde has the honors). No matter, you can grab your walking stick and get ready, because you can go on a sojourn with this band both spiritually and physically.

Ashbringer coverAshbringer (who one would hope could arrange a tour with Dawnbringer, Doombringer, and Nightbringer) is the creation of Minnesota-based musician Nick Stanger, who also works with crust band No Heroes, and he creates every element of this project. Ashbringer has only been a thing for two years now, and this impressive first record is a great start for Stanger, who already is making a heavy statement in the nature-based, folk-heavy black metal quadrant. Yes, there is a lot of this type of thing out there. But don’t let that deter you from checking out Ashbringer. They add value to this style of music and prove good ideas still are out there.

“Ethereal Aura Part 1” begins the proceedings, leading you in with spacey synth, strummed guitars, and singing rising up in the background. It’s a gentle, folky track for the most part, until guitars warm up at the end, and it bleed right into “Part II.” Foggy melodies emanate, while guitars start to churn and acoustics work their way in, leading to a total eruption. Savage shrieks begin to spill everywhere, as the intensity builds, sometimes quelled by more serene passages. Quiet guitars and murky synth arrive, but the track again explodes, letting forth emotion and torment, with howling vocals and a mystical end. “Lucid” starts with cold guitars dripping before a terrifying storm sets in, complete with horrifying shrieks, gut-wrenching playing, and alarming melodies. Clean calls eventually collide with the harsh vocals, signaling a bit of a breather. But when the madness returns, it does like a freight train, with sinister speed rollicking you, the song stampeding, and the track eventually settling, with cosmic haze and light hand drumming letting you come back down to Earth.

“With Vacant Eyes” starts the second half of the record, seemingly going a gentler route before melody ruptures and a really catchy tempo takes hold. The song feels thrashy and rough at times. The sounds swim, with harsh growls blasting through, elements cascading downward, and some blast beats tearing apart everything in its wake. Earthy guitars and spirited singing come along, but that’s all decimated in the song’s final moments. “Lonesome” is a scene-setting instrumental, with eerie synth and space dust sprinkled about, Middle Eastern-style melodies playing a part, and rustic percussion, all of it blending into the great finale “Bitter.” The track erupts with rage, with a furious tempo, the vocals scathing, and the playing blasting over you. Acoustics return again, tempering the storm a bit and adding more color, and later more singing blends in that leads the way to a warm, buzzing guitar section. The vocals hit a howl again, with the guitars droning, notes bubbling along with it, the fires burning out, and the track rippling back toward the universe.

Ashbringer is woodsy, violent, and full of life, and “Vacant” is a record that certainly not indicative of its title. It’s full of compelling work and potential for future greatness, and as noted, it’s going to be a choice work for when I disappear into the trees for a long excursion one afternoon. Stanger has a good thing going here, and I’m curious to hear how this project develops into the future.

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