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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