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Exemplary technique missing the heart - 70%

we hope you die, July 27th, 2020

The fourth full length offering from these Dutch black metallers is a tight and efficient work of black metal. One that marries the militaristic and sentimental tendencies within an otherwise straightforward skeleton of traditional techniques for the genre. For the most part, Asgrauw stick to fast blast-beats and tremolo picking, letting the phrasing and melodic variation of the riffs do the heavy lifting in unfolding this album’s tale. The riffs range from aggressive power chord progressions and tritone play to more conventional major/minor dichotomies that lend this music a more contemplative, studious edge over an undiluted ear bashing.

This is reflected in the vocals, which range from standard black metal stylings, to passionate screaming, to more aggressive shouting with an undeniably human touch to them. Asgrauw have proved themselves masters of hiding the miniscule units of time they require to transition from these competing moods, giving this album the illusion of scope and duration; an interesting slight of hand born of their attention to detail when it comes to stitching these tracks together. Drums offer a clear and crisp foundation, rarely deviating from blast-beats that are riddled with mini-fills and accents all the same. They do a good job of riding the wave between each phrase and riff, sometimes bringing out the music’s chaotic tendencies, at other times supressing their more free-flowing tendencies so as not to detract from the frequent delicate melodies that crop up throughout ‘IJsval’.

This puts Asgrauw in the position of being something of a bridge between the Netherlands and Sweden. There are elements of Marduk, or even Dissection and Sacramentum within this album that are largely veiled beneath Asgrauw’s overwhelming black metal aesthetic. These fragments are in constant tension and conflict with the undeniably Dutch aspects to their sound, with antecedents in Sammath, Cirith Gorgor, and Unlord. This makes for an intriguing listen that has many curiosities to reveal, but at times they fly by so quickly as the quantity of riffs and ideas flow past at such a pace that one risks missing its hidden complexities if the mind strays for even a moment. That being said ‘IJsval’ does stop to dwell on ideas at key junctures long enough for us to catch our breath.

Despite all this, ‘IJsval’ is a work that exemplifies technique, both in terms of musicianship and composition, to the detriment of a unique or profound statement. It’s like donning your favourite leather jacket. Reliable, durable, one that has seen much of the world and has many yarns to spin, but ultimately a background feature that we end up taking for granted before too long. ‘IJsval’ is a masterwork of technique, the execution of an idea with just enough colour and life to stand above the majority. But it is lacking that indefinable spark that some refer to as spontaneity, inspiration, or vaguely as ‘magic’. Whatever imprecise language we use to fill this void, the tangible result is an album that is overly processed, failing to enrich the soul beyond the pleasure one can gain from watching master craftsmen practice their work.

Originally published at Hate Meditations

Asgrauw - IJsval - 92%

Edmund Sackbauer, January 21st, 2020
Written based on this version: 2020, Digital, Death Kvlt Productions

Asgrauw are a hard working Dutch black metal band with “IJsval” being full length number four in only six years. While the first one in 2014 has been a bit rawer and played by the numbers but they went on to smoothen their sound and bring in more own ideas. Their newest album is a masterclass in captivating and intelligent black metal.

Like it is the case with more or less each metal genre having its origins way back in the eighties there is little room left for innovation. There is a reason why some bands made big waves back then and have gained a lot of followers over the past decades. Asgrauw are clever enough to pay tribute to some of the big names and chose a quite conservative approach of taking all the well-known single pieces putting them back together and enhancing them with a little bit of their own DNA to create something that sounds familiar but fresh and a little bit different at the same time.

The classic tremolo lines are in full force and there are a lot of the typical epic and often melancholic melodies that we all know from the Scandinavian bands of the second wave of black metal. There are still glimpses of the minimalistic and raw approach that used to define black metal in the beginning but also some bits that have a more laid-back and less adventurous feeling. Atmosphere is something that is important for each black metal outfit but Asgrauw have put in additional effort to make sure that “IJsval” presents an eerie and gloomy trip through dark soundscapes going to haunt the listener even once the record is finished.

Beside the spectacular guitar work also the rhythm section has to be mentioned. The drumming is precise following the main patterns of each song and highlighting several sections where an extra portion of intensity is needed. What really impressed me is the professional level of the songwriting. Each of the songs has a clear structure and Asgrauw managed to make the single tracks memorable without sounding fluffy or simplistic. There is a good portion of rhythm and tempo changes but overall the songs follow a clear and stringent structure. The soloing parts are well implemented and never overstay their welcome. More ambient pieces are used to give the whole album the feeling of one connected piece of art.

The production is pretty much flawless with the guitars and drums sounding powerful and punchy. The mix is perfectly clear making all the details and different elements easily audible. While some might argue that black metal needs more rawness I think that this album highly benefits from this approach. Also the haunting vocals which are an important factor for the overall atmosphere are perfectly implemented in the mix. The artwork is amazing and the album therefore worth getting in a physical edition. The optical value of this product is outstanding and of the highest quality. The cover illustration also is among the most beautiful ones I have seen so fans and collectors should not miss out on this early highlight of 2020.