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A great classic of majestic ambient BM on fire - 90%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, August 5th, 2015

To hear great cold and majestic flowing atmospheric black metal, you really can't go past Ash Borer; they may not have released very much work since their formation in 2008 but what recordings are available are to be treasured. Ash Borer write and perform blazingly furious music, so much so that I'm inclined to think much of what they do is improvised and the band members might actually be channelling a mighty and mysterious force whose intent is to remind us humans of the primal natural forces that gave rise to our existence and never to forget where we came from.

From the moment this self-titled debut album starts, the band takes listeners on a wild and mesmerising ride through dark and terrifying territory that encompasses depressive BM, dark ambient, apocalyptic post-metal and elements of technical death metal and doom metal. The music incorporates plenty of riffing and melody but in a way that seems completely organic, not intentional. Howling banshee vocals in the background add to the hellish nature of the music. The band's full-bore, take-no-prisoners approach includes near-continuous blast-beat drumming and tremolo-guitar shredding, and that makes for a very overwhelming and highly immersive listening experience.

For all the fury on display though, the music is also very expressive and emotional, and beauty is as much part of it as the passion and energy are. In the few moments where the band appears to pause for breath, the mood that emerges can be deeply sorrowing, even despairing. Renewed anger and energy are often the result, and listeners can be completely knocked over by the sheer force and power of the music. The second track in particular has some very powerful doomy sections where the bass surges like an almighty tidal force.

However, it's not the individual moments that define the album; what defines it is the continuous flow of energy and power through the entire recording. Sometimes hard, onrushing and unstoppable, at other times contemplative and inwardly focused, but always alive and alert, this spirit makes Ash Borer's self-titled album a special being indeed.

Cascadia at its best - 86%

ultraviolet, May 4th, 2012

Strange as it seems, given it’s hype, I never was the most devoted fan of the Cascadian scene. I surely have worshipped Weakling’s full length and I definitely respect and embrace the WitTR offerings but as a whole this scene seems to me like rendering the same theme over and over again. Which, since we’re talking about blackmetal, is not a bad thing, but it’s also not something that would make me stand up and shout “yes! here we are!”.

So, when records like Ash Borer’s debut self-titled full length emerge, I find myself puzzled. At how this band sounds more unique than the average Cascadian band and what is it that drew me into their realms with such virtuosity. Thinking about it, a part of the answer here is as simple as that: “DRUMS!”. Yes, it’s the beating of the drums, similar to that marching tone in the opening track “In The Midst Of Life, We Are In Death” that give new levels to a track. This is a fact not at all irrelevant if we consider that beating something would be the most primitive way to provide a distinctive sound and it’s kind of disappointing that many bands, claiming to play primitive music, forget about their drums and percussion.

The other part of the answer why Ash Borer are a unique band to my ears, is that more than anything else they produce EPIC songs. Their guitars are narrative, their themes have a continuation helping to build images of times long or maybe of times to come since history tends to “repeat” itself. Ash Borer do not sound nostalgic or painful or mourning, they just sound “onwards to battle”. And given the lack of lyrics, I have the freedom to conjure this ancient (or future) battle up in my mind and this is all about art in the end.

I could possibly write more about the menacing riffs of “Rest, You Are The Lightning” or the marvelous melodic breaks of “My Curse…” that wisely avoid falling into post-(black)metal mediocrity. However, what matters most is that here we are talking about a record of 40 minutes and 3 tracks that flow like a grand river, sometimes in cascades and other times quietly and steadily until the final purification when it meets the vastness of the ocean. This is a small triumph of the Californians, awaiting our embrace…

Originally written for:

Mysterious, evocative new black metal - 92%

Erebusmag, June 19th, 2011

The concept of “authenticity” has long been a thorny nexus of contention among metal fans, no matter what genre one primarily follows or considers oneself to speak for. For the last decade, at the very least, I believe this idea and its relation to black metal bands has been the primary locus of stressful argumentation (and hasty or shallow attempts to even define the related questions) in the scene as a whole and it’s not too difficult to understand why. Black metal, from the very beginning of the whatever-wave coming out of Norway in the early ‘90s was supposed to be about primal expression, a certain return to one’s roots, a looking backward to Bathory, Celtic Frost, Hellhammer, etc. for stimulation as the death metal scene at the time grew increasingly cloying, suffocating and shallow beneath the weight of innumerable Swede-death or Florida-death clone bands. Initial freshness and sparkling inspiration from death metal (in itself a reaction against thrash) grew into a sterile boredom and artistic frustration as the entire world was drowned in unoriginality. So, in league with a root-seeking route of escape there existed the ideal of such searches being a method of returning to music that was somehow more authentic – this in the sense of a sound that more accurately reflected what was happening in the musicians’ lives at the time. Instead of playing a form of music that had grown increasingly stylized and flailingly ineffectual, a repetition of single cell music motifs combined in infinite forms (never original, never emotional, losing all atmosphere, losing a direct contact with the experiences and thoughts of the musicians), one must return to the basic building blocks of metal and build upward again on a path of singular, original evolution. That was the ideal at the time, anyway.

As it goes with most forms of music, there were a few strict adherents, a few originators, a few brave players (I’m mainly thinking of Darkthrone, Burzum, early Emperor, early Enslaved, maybe Abigor) and then as the ideas these people produced like mutations of ancient viruses spread, newly virulent, the typical process of proliferation and replication (or simple duplication) again reared its timeless, malignant head. These mechanisms of replication seem to be timeless in art: one originator, a thousand clones “influenced” by the new concepts. If the original theories of the primary expressers are in themselves mutations on timeless (within metal’s history itself – and so, within a certain history, not timeless at all) themes, these memes seek further mutation as they spread to the internal worlds of other musicians. How many musicians have the means to further alter the proliferating memes, however, and what force or process is involved in this reshaping? In my opinion it mainly sources from one primary function: the personal imagination, the original experience and honest, emotional expression of the receiving musician.

If an artist doesn’t reflect his own life and strive to communicate his own emotions in his music do his creations have “value” in relation to musical tropes that relentlessly seek innovation and new mutations through the eye of novel, personal reflection? I don’t believe so. In relation to other concepts, tastes or desires for pleasure in music these creations of course have a different form of “value.” These concepts and tastes are in themselves entirely personal and subjective. This is why arguments about “value” in art are, at least in my opinion, almost completely superfluous as one tries to hint at or play with the seductive forces of what is, for most people, a concrete clarity and direction in a perceived objectivity.

What does any of this have to do with Ash Borer?

A little, at least for me. It’s mainly because in the Northwest United States there has risen a distinct genre of black metal mainly descending, as far as I can tell, from the bands Weakling and Wolves in the Throne Room. A few names exist for this: Pac-NW black metal, Cascadian black metal (because of the exact location of the bands, inhabiting Northern California, Oregon and Washington state, centered on the Cascade Range of mountains – in itself a romantic ideal and concept, a signifier), etc. These bands have a readily identifiable source sound or initially-inspiring basic cell of musical ideas – mainly condensed around or circling the use of long, droning, slowly moving, melancholy guitar melodies played over rapid drumbeats that don’t often slip into death metal-inspired double bass. Add certain elements from post-rock, doom and a stylistic aesthetic seemingly derived from Discharge and Doom-referring crust punk and anarchist fashion: voila, one has Cascadian black metal. Of course this is a cliché and doesn’t actually define anything, it simply exists as an idea that people can tie other perceptions to and somehow obtain judgments of musical concepts and expression in bizarre aesthetic calculations of “influence” and idiom.

Ash Borer has already been placed in this genre category – perhaps against their will. Why would any honest musician who sees avenues for innovation in his work want to pigeonholed or aesthetically “defined” unless, at the very beginning of one’s work, it allows easy definitions for listeners to latch onto in a process of seeking out new music – a method of “understanding” which can later be shed or altered?

Among most of these bands I tend to mostly gravitate toward Ash Borer because something in my personality responds to their melodies. This is certainly completely subjective, someone else might remain utterly unmoved by their music – hearing nothing in it, feeling nothing because of it. I believe it to be supremely, originally (at least in this genre category) emotive, its melancholy is disseminated in an effective fashion, the melodies don’t overstay their immediacy and fertility even as they are cast outwards and expand through (Burzum-following) repetition and tendencies towards trance. As the music is certainly evocative (building outreaching, immersive atmosphere) and supremely effective in its emotional communication, I can only anticipate, in the minds of its creators, that it directly reflects their own experiences and sentiments. Why? At least for me, it’s because I can locate their melodies in any direct, linear development of tradition. They are combining tried and true (boring) tropes in an effort to influence the emotions of listeners, outside of the structures of linking melodies and genre-defined songwriting. So: authenticity, originality, music worth listening to.

The songwriting displayed here is also worth mentioning. Ash Borer’s previous efforts hinted at a maturity to come but they were still hesitant reachings towards an original sense of melodic expression and structural prowess. On this self-titled debut album I believe the band has mostly obviated these thorny issues (so many bands never escape them – in fact I believe the majority of groups never do). The songwriting is now practiced, adroit, flexible, effective. If one is interested in current trends in American black metal, bands that are displaying these trends while simultaneously attempting to escape them, or simply suggestive, depressive music that rings with a hollowly echoing, yearning grasp towards open freedom of ringing musical reflection, I suppose one could do a lot worse than this Ash Borer release.


Restless spirits stalking the caldera - 60%

autothrall, March 31st, 2011

Ash Borer is another of those West Coast acts who have stirred some buzz in the underground through their use of raw, uncompromising aesthetics, not necessarily adopting the same 'Cascadian' vibe you'd hear emanating from the upper Northwest of the US, but certain to appeal to that same crowd who seek a heavy amount of atmosphere against the backdrop of traditional black metal in the vein of Darkthrone, Burzum and so forth. The band has only been around for a few years now, and the Ash Borer tape is their debut full length, consisting of but three tracks, two of which are exorbitant in their length. I'll give the band credit, they manage to pull off a 12 and 19 minute track without either becoming entirely monotonous or boring, but aside from the fibrous, ringing Sonic Youth-like component that they often layer into the primal drudging, I wasn't so impressed.

There are clearly positives here. I love the band's name, it's one of those memorable, primal affairs like a Bone Awl. I like the huge swaths of percussive emptiness, feedback resonating into inner spaces while traces of deep distortion trail the memory (i.e. the end of "In the Mist of Life, We Are In Death"). However, I don't really care for the actual black metal segments, which drive along with vapid familiarity and rarely if ever involve any sort of surprise or escalation outside of the few chord shifts and snarling, resounding vocals. The blasting here, while used to create a mesmeric effect only, becomes duly monotonous. A good example of this is in the massive finale "My Curse Was Raised in the Darkness Against a Doomsday Silence", where the ambient intro, interlude and outro provide not only a stark contrast to about 10 or more minutes of ferocious, uninspired blast work, but feel superior to everything except the nice guitar sequence at around 7:30 in the song. Interestingly enough, I found the shorter, middle track "Rest, You Are the Lightning" to be the most rambling, despite the half decent miasma of bridge drums and guitars.

Fans of bands like Krallice, Altar of Plagues and Castevet will undoubtedly chew this up, though Ash Borer offers a much more raw, unwholesome ravaging. The songs are structured, but I have the impression these blokes could turn on their amplifiers and 'wing it' for many hours of bleak, distorted scripture. There is little complexity involved, just a viral, looping repetition that takes its time to cycle through each chapter. The guitars are good and loud here, placed at the fore of the tinny percussive storm and spacious yowling, but I feel like the note selection could certainly be more interesting than it is, and in particular I'd like to hear them indulge more in the post-punk fabric that they hint at, rather than the blander black metal riffs that seem to only anchor the outfit's potential to drift into a more appropriate oblivion. But this is not bad for what it is.


Ash Borer - 90%

StillAsTheClay, March 30th, 2011

In the various metal subgenres that begin with "post," "ambient," or "atmospheric," it's all about finding balance between raw metallic qualities and softer, more beautiful atmospheric aspects. A band's success is dictated by this simple fact: too much atmosphere makes your music gimmicky and boring. It becomes just another footnote in a long history of failed attempts at creating atmosphere, and no scene is more subject to this issue than the Cascadian black metal scene. From over-the-top nature hippies such as Skagos to even more over-the-top nature hippies like Alda, the Pacific Northwest is plagued with would-be Wolves In the Throne Room imitators and annoying cabin-dwelling black metal vegans who wouldn't know a good black metal song if it bludgeoned them over the head with an organic, eco-friendly tree limb. This is where Ash Borer comes in. This northern Californian four-piece have, since their formation in 2008, crafted quite a name for themselves in the underground community. Although they have only released two demos and a split with fellow Cascadian act Fell Voices (which was met with huge acclaim upon its release), they have already established themselves as one of the region's most promising up-and-coming acts.

Whatever doubts may have remained about the band's output are silenced completely by Ash Borer. Released on a 150-copy run of cassette tapes, Ash Borer's debut full-length is not destined to broaden the band's fan base by any tangible amount. This is quite unfortunate because Ash Borer is, to put it quite bluntly, some of the most inspired and engaging black metal to come out of Cascadia since Wolves In the Throne Room's landmark album Two Hunters. Ash Borer can no longer be labeled simply as another atmospheric black metal act, because their self-titled completely transcends this meager label. Through its 40 minutes and 3 tracks, this record rips, tears, and blazes its way through depressive black metal, post-rock, doom metal, ambient, and progressive metal, traversing more musical ground in two thirds of an hour than Skagos have throughout their entire decrepit tree-hugging existence. Ash Borer have found that magical sonic equilibrium that so many of their region's fellow acts spend their careers seeking. In the Midst of Life, We Are In Death and My Curse Was Raised In the Darkness Against A Doomsday Silence showcase the group's tasteful sense of atmosphere through a couple of post-rocky mid-song breaks and ambient outros, while Rest, You Are the Lightning (the album's shortest track at 8 minutes) is a fast-paced monstrosity of a riff fest. Also, some listeners may note that this track is a re-recorded version of the first Untitled track off of 2010's Tour Rehearsal Demo with added vocals.

Another wonderfully mesmerizing thing about Ash Borer is its ability to hold the listener's interest throughout its entire duration. Many similar bands would crash and burn if they attempted to write a cohesive 19-minute black metal track, but Ash Borer never fall to this unfortunate trait of the Cascadian scene. This may lie in the group's all-out, balls-to-the-wall approach to their music. Unlike others, Ash Borer, even during their most dreamy and atmospheric moments, never forget the fact that they are a black metal band above all else, and this awareness of their true identity is present in every frantically tremolo-picked guitar line, in every electrifying double-bass passage, and in every tortured shriek. As such, Ash Borer are not afraid to get technical, and once again, that concept of musical equilibrium comes into the band's winning equation for success. This is not indulgent riffage for the sake of riffage a-la-Krallice nor is it repetitive strings of lush chords that sound for all the world like a black-metallized Explosions In the Sky (something that acts like Woods of Desolation fall victim to at times). Ash Borer transfix with dreamy tremolo passages only when called for and they only stun with mind-bending riffs when it is absolutely necessary. Even the most technical riffs are imbued with an underlying sense of beauty and even the softest post-rock passages do not come anywhere near being mind-numbingly simplistic.

From the eerily Rorcal-esque doomy riffs at the beginning of In the Midst of Life, We Are In Death to the moment that the last ambient notes of My Curse Was Raised In the Darkness Against A Doomsday Silence fade into oblivion, Ash Borer have proved themselves quite simply the most impressive up-and-coming atmospheric black metal band out there today. On their self-titled they steer clear of all the ridiculous bull*** that turns other promising acts into sub-par gimmicks and meld influences from a slew of other genres with an uncanny sense of when to stop and when to go to craft an effort that is almost guaranteed to annihilate all contenders for the throne of 2011 atmospheric black metal album of the year (and the year is not even a quarter through). Most importantly, Ash Borer have attained the musical nirvana so desperately sought by their peers and have risen above and beyond all previously set genre conventions. And the best part? They are barely three years old, and judging by the excellence that was hinted at on their previous releases and has finally been fully realized on Ash Borer, the future of the Cascadian scene will be very bright indeed as long as Ash Borer are around. I, for one, hope that this will be for a very long time.

(originally for