Ashbringer - Vacant - (8/10)
Published on May 24, 2015
Nick Stanger, an 18-year old Minnesota musician took on the name Ashbringer in 2013 and released his debut, Vacant under this moniker. Having been released initially in 2014, Avantgarde Music is re-releasing this atmospheric black metal opus as a digipack with updated artwork and packaging. Being part of an impressive roster that boats such acts as Darkspace and Aureole, Nick has shows that this project is more than fitting for the label, and this debut is quite impressive from such a younger musician.
The music on this debut is admittedly nothing new. The influences of Ashbringer are very noticeable, with many elements on this record conjuring images of various folk/black metal acts, but the actual songwriting is still very strong and showcases some great ideas and musicianship. Being the sole member of the band, Nick shows that he is more than capable at the various instruments on Vacant. From the deeper guitars, the acoustic passages or some truly beautiful synth work, the idea of a folk-like or atmospheric black metal is alive and well in these six tracks. Vocally, a higher scream is more of the preferred range, but there are some nice baritone cleans and some more guttural growls as well making an all too brief appearance.
The songs are mostly more in the mid-range, with some very hypnotic, albeit repetitive drumming and guitar work, and the very clear bass lines (such as the final track, “Bitter”) are wonderfully executed and placed to create a theme within the songs and push forward through the repetition to get to the next passage. There are some faster and heavier sections as well, but the focus is clearly more about making the “cascading” sound pour through the speakers and not about assaulting the listener with blast beats and non-stop tremolo. It does help that the production and mixing allows these tracks to show various subtleties that could be lost in a more “raw” sound, but the album is also not so crystal clear as to sound saccharine or computerized. There is a great sense of realness to these recordings that one could hear in a Wolves In The Throne Room album or even earlier era Agalloch LP.
Speaking on those aforementioned acts, there is no denying where the influence comes from on Vacant. While it is understandable to not be wholly “original” in this day and age, it can also be a detriment to wear the influences so clearly on one’s sleeve. There are plenty of Mantle or even Ashes era Agalloch here, and some of the brighter sounding passages sound similar to the debut Falloch record. The fact that these influences are so clear in the music does somewhat hinder the record from standing on it’s own and creating a sound that stands out, yet there are still enough good ideas employed, and the progression of the record and the way the pieces weave from one section to another is very well crafted. As mentioned earlier, the bass work on the final track and the synth at the end of “Lucid” imitating bells shows signs of utter beauty and keeps the hope there that Ashbringer will continue to evolve enough that with time, this project could stand as something different from the genre. As it is now though, this debut is truly enjoyable and even if not unique or even “different” than a lot of what is already out there, there is plenty to enjoy for fans of the genre, and should keep many people coming back for more.