Review Summary: ...in which Ash Borer create concise and to-the-point atmospheric black metal of the highest quality.
Cascadian black metal bands really seem to enjoy releasing obscure demos. This is to some degree an understandable aspect of their character, as other than Wolves In the Throne Room
and a select few others most of the scene's bands are not even signed signed to a label, making it difficult for them to release more than hard-to-obtain, relatively brief demos. However, a few bands such as Fell Voices
, and, of course, Ash Borer
, have taken this to a whole new level. Instead of just self-titled demos, they release albums called "2010 Tour CD-R," with song titles such as "Untitled" or "II" and track durations of 10-20 minutes. It's honestly a bit ridiculous. Ash Borer
's contribution to this pool of random obscure demos, their oh-so-creatively titled Tour Rehearsal Demo
might look, at first glance, to be just another merely passable collection of overlong and pretentious untitled tracks, but it is, in fact, one of the best of the pack.
The first thing to note while going into this little record is that it is very different that Ash Borer
's past work, namely in that the vocalist who contributed his talents to their 2009 Demo and their split with Fell Voices
is completely absent. Now, before you go running to your copy of Two Hunters
for comfort, hear me out for a minute. First of all, the demo lasts only 18 minutes, with its two untitled tracks clocking in at about eight and ten minutes respectively. These may not be short tracks, but they're much more concise than, say, anything Fell Voices
have ever written (nothing against them). And honest to God, they actually manage to hold your attention the whole way through. Ash Borer do not waste time with long, boring sections of ambiance, preferring to, when it is called for, keep their music subdued rather than completely event-less. This means that the "atmospheric" part of "atmospheric black metal" is not crafted using potentially dull electronics or stupid nature samples: it's all made with natural, soaring, and beautiful tremolo-picked guitar riffs and tasteful yet subdued bass lines.
While the presence of a vocalist might have, in some ways, been beneficial to the demo, it is perfectly cohesive and engaging even with its lack thereof. Instead, the listener's attention is drawn to different aspects of Ash Borer
's sound: the reverb and delay-soaked guitar parts, the masterful drumming, and the excellent production. The production strikes a wonderful balance between being overdone and trying to be kvlt: it sounds like it was recorded by a band on a low budget, but the tasteful amount of roughness in the music only adds to the songs, never detracting from the listener's experience with excessive abrasiveness. Also, the music itself is not minimalistic. It is repetitive at times (as bands of similar qualities tend to be), but Ash Borer
know how to play their instruments and they show it. The drumming is especially impressive, and the group doesn't shy away from barraging the listener with double bass when called for.
With this demo one of Cascadia's most promising black metal bands has given us yet another reason to expect great things from them. Instead of going the all-too-easy route of creating 20 minute-plus epics centered around useless nature samples and annoying acoustic guitars they have managed to take a style known for overstaying its welcome with needless indulgence and turn it into some of the most concise and engaging ambient metal out there. They have proven that a black metal band doesn't need to live in a hand-built cabin deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and record their music with a webcam mic in the forest at midnight to create beautiful, peaceful metal: all that is needed is tangible instrumental proficiency, a strong songwriting ability, and a sense of when to go all-out and when to pull back. Here's to the future of Cascadian black metal: may it live a long and prosperous life, devoid of stupid nature sampling.