Ash Borer – Cold of Ages
If you peruse a lot of of year end lists like I do, then last December you probably saw Ash Borer’s eponymous debut make the cut on quite a number of them. And rightfully so as Ash Borer has been an underground favorite within the West Coast black metal scene since their 2009 demo. Unfortunately unless your 1980s Sony Walkman still plays a vital role in your acoustic arsenal, you probably didn’t even have the means to listen to the majority of their releases until very recently. Although Ash Borer has been on the forefront of the US based black metal scene for the last couple of years, its all been through word of mouth. Their fantastic split with like minded friends Fell Voices was self-released, only sold at shows, and limited to 100 copies on pro-cassette. Their self titled LP was first limited to 150 pro-cassettes but then re-released by Pesanta Urolk on vinyl. Luckily Ash Borer’s lack of enthusiasm for tangible release formats has finally ended with a full fledged Bandcamp page, where most of their earlier material can be heard. It should now come as no surprise that when Profound Lore Records announced they had inked a deal with Ash Borer to release a proper full length release entitled Cold of Ages, the anticipation was very high indeed.
Despite some folk’s confusion, and the band’s own admonishment of the term, “Cascadian” black metal does stylistically describe Ash Borer to a tee. But pigeonhole labels aside, Ash Borer is atmospheric black metal with a lot of psychedelic and post-metal influences. They don’t do short tracks, with the overwhelming majority pushing past the 10-minute mark. Their Profound Label debut does not deviate from this formula: Cold of Ages consists of four ten minute plus monsters that really deserve your full attention. But this time out, they pace themselves a bit differently, with some fantastic compositional techniques that signify a major step forward for the band.
Similar to their self-titled debut, Cold of Ages’s first track, “Descended Lamentations,” begins with a keyboard drone interspersed with various psychedelic effects that continue to build tension before the onslaught is unleashed somewhere around the mid three minute mark with dissonant guitar work and blast beasts leading the charge. Yet what separates the atmospheric amateurs from the professionals is the ability to carry a melody throughout the cacophony of noise. Here is where Ash Borer absolutely shines. “Descended Lamentations” contains several melodic themes that bridge one section to the next holding the listener’s attention for the almost 17-minute ride. Unlike their debut, Cold of Ages feels a lot more mature with the blackend dissonance seamlessly breaking down into more subtle psychedelic seasoned post-metal passages. In “Phantoms,” Ash Borer uses tempo to keep you engaged. For the first half of the song, the main theme is introduced and played at mid-tempo over and over again. The theme then evolves into a head banging break down before a hallucinogenic outro. The last two songs, “Contact All Flesh” and “Removed Forms,” follow similar formulas but feature Jessica Way of Worm Ouroboros fame. Her vocal performance is haunting and adds a wonderful ethereal effect to both of these tracks.
My biggest complaint with Cold of Ages is that its a bit repetitive. Other than Jessica’s influence, each track follows the same formula of the first. But given this is their first “major” label debut, its understandable they stick with what they know and establish themselves to a wider audience.
Cold of Ages is my answer to those who believe poor production and atmospheric black metal go hand in hand. Its just not true. Though it certainly feels more polished than a 4-hour cassette mix, the rawness from their first full length is happily intact. And because the music is extremely textured with loud and fast streaming into slow and soft, having a respectable level of dynamic range is paramount to their horrific vision. Vocals are clearly for effect with no discernible lyrics to be had. Any words sung are done so through shrieks and screams. Thus, the production correctly treats the vocalist as just another instrument in the mix. Guitars are still edgy contributing to the record’s rawness with the bass sometimes entering and leaving the mix at will. You can tell that this time out, Ash Borer wanted a more airy feel than the somewhat compressed feeling earlier releases had.
If you are a fan of raw atmospheric black metal and have not checked out Ash Borer’s Cold of Ages, please do so, you will not be disappointed. Its one of this year’s best black metal releases.