Ashbringer’s storm of emotion, laying hearts on line help make ‘Absolution’ a complete triumph

Emotion is a major part of any type of artistic expression, and without it you’d have noise without substance. Funny though, a lot of tough guys on the internet seem to bristle at the idea of an artist showing vulnerability or sensitivity, like it eats away at true metal ethos. Which is ridiculous. I wonder what those people do all day long when they’re trying to look tough and evil.

One of the things that drew me to Ashbringer’s music several years ago is their unabashed willingness to show their bleeding hearts, no matter what people may think of them. Taking on an Ashbringer record means you are in it for every twist and turn, every wave of feeling they put into their records. Their amazing third album “Absolution” is another step forward for the band musically, and it is being released by Prosthetic Records, which should put them in front of more people than ever before. Over eight tracks and nearly 70 immersive minutes, the band unloads their inner selves, examining where their souls have been shredded, basking in the majesty of nature, and giving listeners every ounce of who they are. This band—guitarist/vocalist Nick Stanger, bassist Nathan Wallestead, keyboard player Cormac Piper, drummer Ian Sutherland—has grown in leaps and bounds ever since their 2015 debut “Vacant” and into their 2016 sophomore record “Yugen” and demonstrated a potential to be a true force in metal that combines heaviness with human heart. That’s paying off.

The title track kicks things off situated in a bed of acoustics before the thing bursts open. The mix goes back and forth between black metal and folk, with Stanger howling, “I won’t watch you die again,” in defiance. The guitars swim back and forth between calm and rough as warm leads flow, the pace has raucous spots, and Stanger vows, “Every sacrifice was not in vain,” as soloing lights up a fiery end. “Wilderness Walk” jars out of the gates, with admiration for nature and its gift of solace hammered by Stanger’s howls. “Once I had lost my way, now I have found a new beginning,” he calls as the guitars light up and bring serious heat, while emotions caterwaul with power. “I am lost in you,” Stanger wails, as he finds his escape from torment and revels in his true calling. “Dreamscape” has a flurry of chirps as the song slowly comes to life in a psychedelic haze. The song takes some time to build and finally gushes open at about the four-minute mark, with a proggy essence flowing, and Stanger wailing, “Living a life only bound by imagination and freewill,” which is an amazing thought. Synth swells as he declares, “No deities! No masters!” as static and melody collide, and the track tries to think of a world where scarcity and suffering are no more. “Shrine of Loss” sits in a Western-style noir, feeling moody and spacious, with Stanger observing the shrine is the place “where happiness goes to die.” Soloing bursts from calm, as anguished cries and a deluge of sound bring this to a devastating finish.

“Eternal Separation Pt. 1” is cosmic when it starts as keys plink, proggy guitars begin to sprawl, and then things begin to sweep. The track begins delivering punches as Stanger cries passionately, “You are everything I hate about myself and you’re always with me,” a thought that can be applied to so many things. The track heads back into outer space as the room fills with stars, then Stanger delivers a line that hits a little close to home with, “I want to be healed, but these wounds are sentimental,” and a jazzy stream then heads into “Pt. II” where synth rises like a fog and spreads. The ferocious storm gets angrier and blacker, as Stanger admits, “I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders,” as the track blasts forward and crushes walls. Acoustic dashes enter, the leads quiver, and things burn, leaving thick smoke. “Spiritual Architecture” is an instrumental cut that comes at the right time, especially after experiencing such tumult. There’s some strangeness here, which is nice, along with breezy floods of sound that immerse the brain, setting up an elegant finish that leads to finale “Threshold of Existence.” Guitars poke into the room, and again we have a jazz-infused sound taking form before the ignition is switched on. The vocals rage, gazey power washes over the song, and even the cleaner portions that push in feel corroded and dark. The playing stages its last stand as it collides with noise erosion and spits its final bits of energy.

There is genuine humanity in Ashbringer’s music that cannot be faked, and that emotional bursts at the seams of every corner of “Absolution.” Yeah, there are a lot of bands making atmospheric black metal right now, but not all of them can climb into your chest and make you feel every pump of blood like these guys do. This is another strong building block for this band’s foundation that gets stronger and sturdier with every record they create.

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