Review Summary: Ash Borer move up a rung in the black metal ladder while still remembering where they came from
The evolution of Ash Borer from a band putting out releases on cassette tapes limited to 150 copies or less to being signed with one of the hottest metal labels around has come all within the span of four years – two if you count the time since they released their first demo. Some might argue that this is too soon, that such success is likely to ruin a band and the fact that they have actually started naming their tracks or cleaning up their production is a bad omen. It is true that Ash Borer are on their way up the ladder of American black metal – and have been for some time now – but it isn’t fair to say that a better mastering job would make their music worse, or that the format it is released on is likely to degrade its overall quality. In fact, just in time to quell any criticism that may arise from their new-found status as a band signed to a relatively well-known label Ash Borer have released Cold of Ages
, a critical transition album from their period of playing to crowds of 25 people in the back of some forsaken bar to a time when they will likely see that number multiply aggressively. Do all good things come to an end, or does one good thing simply morph into another?
The answer is likely the latter, because Cold of Ages
shows an Ash Borer clinging to many things that made them a name in the underground but also taking advantage of the cards they were dealt. The drumming is the first piece of the puzzle to open up to the suddenly clear production values, and before long you too will be startled at the sheer intensity of the riffing and drum fills midway through “Convict All Flesh” – a track likely to be their best since “Drukne” or since their split with Fell Voices. The lack of distortion to hide sloppy playing is both a gift and a curse, because it takes away from that raw, primal feel of their older material but also gives cause for the guitars to tighten themselves up a bit, and even though the riffing is still dissonant at points and visceral at others, things seem much cleaner and more like a traditional, professional LP than a demo tape. But wait! If Ash Borer is suddenly being released on CD and their recordings mixed and mastered with shreds of professional production values, won’t that impact the atmosphere that made them who they are in the first place?
To put it bluntly, no. “Phantoms” is a track whose atmosphere is conjured by crashing drums and wailing shrieks that act just as effectively as they have for years now; it’s just that now they are placed with a more caring hand. It is true that all of this change has not necessarily made Ash Borer a better band, but it certainly hasn’t impacted quality at all. The band took what they were presented with and ran with it, realizing that with the tools they were given they could craft an album which was far and away the heaviest release they have put out, but a release where they still can pull off sections of plodding, slow guitar plucking like those displayed on “Removed Forms”, which hearken back to the brilliance of “Drukne”. Jessica Way of Worm Ouroboros lends her voice for this album, and its use as a tool of pure atmosphere was a decision that proved to be smart. Ash Borer is not the kind of band to have singing as anything more than a touch of ambiance, and the fact that it is nothing more than that makes their use on Cold of Ages
so great. They set the stage for the 18 minutes of “Convict All Flesh” and whirl away in the intro of “Removed Forms”, stuffed in with the ringing guitar notes.
Those who were scared that their signing with Profound Lore would mean a turn for the worse can rest easy now, so long as you are prepared to accept that things at the Ash Borer camp have changed a bit. No, they are not becoming the next Wolves in the Throne Room, but they are likely to become a much more known band with this release. As far as Cold of Ages
is concerned, though, this is business as usual despite the incorporation of new elements into their sound. If their self-titled LP represented a slight dip in the usual quality of this band, Cold of Ages
represents a trip both back and forward – back to their earlier days in terms of material and the quality of the compositions, but forward in terms of recording quality, evolutionary potential, and available elements at their disposal. Indeed, this is a stepping stone that Ash Borer seems to be following brilliantly, and in a way that is not intended to alienate an entire sector of their fan base. Gone may be the shows played to 25 people in a warehouse, gone may be the cassettes that sell out in 30 minutes, but the music that made all of that so enjoyable still remains.