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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 Sputnikmusic.com)