PICK OF THE WEEK: Ashbringer pour emotion, fiery tumult into amazing second record ‘Yūgen’

DSC_0176The feeling of being overwhelmed isn’t a foreign concept for most humans. We have a tendency to get inundated with things, whether that’s work, our personal lives, or our emotions. That sense that so much is going on at once can be intimidating, and unless you have an outlet to release all of that energy, it can well up inside.

I got that same feeling listening to “Yūgen,” the stunning new record from Ashbringer. The feeling rushed over me the first time I experienced these eight tracks, as it felt everything from their creators was poured out, leaving almost nothing left, pushing back against the pressure. Emotion—and that’s a major factor on this record—is nearly bled dry, and not just through the words and vocals, but within the music itself. Digging into the lyrics provided even more evidence that much had to have been going on leading up to the creation of this music, that “Yūgen” seems like an outlet for something bigger than just their art. Themes of nature, loss, reunion, and longing can be felt in the songs (or at least that’s how I’ve interpreted it), and every new journey spent with this spacious, rich album could have you feeling different things and seeing changing shades.

Ashbringer coverThis Minnesota-based black metal band only has been in operation for three years now, but already they have put out two powerful records that prove their strength. Before “Yūgen,” Ashbringer opened our eyes on last year’s superb “Vacant,” which proved a harbinger of what was to come. The band used to be fronted and composed solely by Nick Stanger, who now handles songwriting, lyrics, guitars and vocals. He has rounded out the lineup with a strong cast including guitarist Robert Northrup, bassist Nathan Wallestead (who plays with Stanger in Astral Blood), drummer Ian Sutherland, and keyboardist/oboe player Cormac Piper. This is a formidable lineup seeing through a vision that might remind some of the fallen Agalloch, Alcest, Falls of Rauros, Alda, and bands of that ilk.

“Solace” begins the record, a 10:40-long piece that slowly spreads its wings before hitting full soar. Glorious melody and creaking growls arrive, with the tempo driving harder as it goes and synth and spacey colors working through the body. Rustic acoustics spill in before Maiden-like leads take hold and everything comes to a fluid end, that then bleeds into “Oceans Apart.”  There, calm waters flow for a few moments before the song ignites, with huge growls pummeling. Great melodic leads drive the force, with Stanger wailing, “I’ve waited so long to see you again.” A quick halt hits, with the song slowly building back up amid woodsy melodies before the blaze lights again, and clean wails wrap themselves over top the song. “Lakeside Meditation” sits in a static storm, crushing on the other side of that, with delirious playing and furious growls penetrating. The song speeds up, finding more a rock personality, while the gazey shades and cathartic playing practically let you feel their collective hearts pumping in their chests. “In Remembrance” is hazy at first, with starry dashes and the eventual explosion. Steely guitar work and gushing feelings are injected into the piece, and Stanger reflects on loss, howling, “I watched the life fade from your eyes, I stood breathless.” That anguish continues over the song’s final moments, as the track comes to a thunderous end.

“Celestial Infancy” is hushed at first, with the band building into a spiritual chant of, “Mind and body are one, body and earth are one, earth and sky are one, spirit and sky are one,” a refrain you might find yourself repeating, especially as it repeats later in the song. There are reflective moments during this one, as well as tumultuous ones, with the pace swinging back and forth with force, and alien singing sending the track on its way. The title cut has guitars jabbing and guest vocalist Elizabeth Redding carrying the heavy load. The crescendo builds as the song develops, with beauty intertwining with fury, and the tension rising up over the final minutes as jagged guitars slam shut the door. “Omen” is a woodsy instrumental that starts with fires crackling and Cameron Becker adding trombone to the mix, with syrupy slide guitar shining a Western beam on the song, and gentle breezes following to the end. Closer “Glowing Embers, Dying Fire” bursts right away, with melodic growls, a strong refrain, and a huge feel to the guitar work. As the song goes on, the band, and Stanger as lyricist, finds a new level of understanding with the surrounding world, with him calling, “Bleeding into one, fading endlessly, merging with the earth, I see clearly now.” The track is full of spirit and power, with elegant, spacious playing unfurling, and the track finding its way to the fire where it, too, becomes one with the land.

Ashbringer’s mission is a worthy one, and the exemplary work they do on “Yūgen” must be heard in full to be properly understood. These are songs steeped in emotion, bleeding passion everywhere, and seemingly reacting to being overwhelmed by life experiences. It’s an incredible outlet for this band, one they’ll hopefully follow well into the future and they carve out their journey.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/ashbringermusic

To buy the album, go here: http://avantgardemusic.bigcartel.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.avantgardemusic.com/