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Ash Borer - Cold of Ages

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Artist: Ash Borer

Album: Cold of Ages

Label: Profound Lore

Review date: Sep. 14, 2012

Ash Borer, emerging as one of the more intriguing metal bands to be named after an invasive species of beetle, conjures up a blackened — albeit familiar — cloud with the four epic-long tracks on their latest, Cold of Ages. More than a few of the signs of the band’s association with the so-called “Cascadian Black Metal” scene of our Pacific Northwest are there: The eco-centrist bent implied by their name; their shine to long-form song structures. Throughout the LP, Ash Borer maintain a grasp on the sound of the genre’s early 1990s pioneers, and push their own music forward conservatively enough to remain a worthy entry in the canon.

But it’s not all an exercise by the grim numbers cast by those before them. Case in point, the icy, subdued intro to “Descended Lamentations,” which wouldn’t have been out of place on a Múm record (yes, that Múm). It’s a brief respite before the album roars to life with a dense hailstorm of a riff set to a perpetual blastbeat, the vocals howling in anguish with absolutely no discernable, enunciated lyrics. One can detect the trace DNA of early Burzum and Darkthrone (and for that matter, even Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse) in the minor-keyed melodicism and mid-tempo interlude, during which a dismal motif meanders over distant synth pads.

There’s an overall unsettling, cavernous quality to “Phantoms,” but Ash Borer shows admirable restraint from trying to replicate either the dentist-drill treble or the murk of early-’90s black metal. Guitars seethe with distortion but never so much as to obscure the tonality of chords. And even when avalanching at top speed, the drums retain clarity, in spite of the music’s density. “Removed Forms” lowers the shroud further, embracing a goth/industrial sound reminiscent of mid-’90s Cranes.

There’s definitely a subdued-to-shattering dynamic used time and again throughout Cold of Ages, but it’s no more jarring than say, the early work of Satyricon, whose penchant for sudden acoustic interludes and theme changes offset their own graying storms. The subtle elements of goth and post-rock are welcome ingredients, and Ash Borer’s proficiency at rendering them is such that one might wonder if these don’t come fully to fore in a future effort. While not a rapturously groundbreaking record, Cold of Ages is a rock-solid entry, and considering the state of black metal in 2012, when fumbling toward something “more” or “different” more often has the potential to come across as just plain fumbling, such tastefulness is welcome.

By Adam MacGregor

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