Friday, December 2, 2016

Ash Borer - The Irrepassable Gate

By Justin C. Ash Borer's new full length, The Irrepassable Gate, has been getting a lot of press, so I ended up breaking my rule about reading other reviews before writing my own. I was a bit surprised--there doesn't seem to be a clear agreement among reviewers as to whether this album is a refinement or a broadening of Ash Borer's core sound.
By Justin C.

Artwork by Glyn Smyth of Stag & Serpent.

Ash Borer's new full length, The Irrepassable Gate, has been getting a lot of press, so I ended up breaking my rule about reading other reviews before writing my own. I was a bit surprised--there doesn't seem to be a clear agreement among reviewers as to whether this album is a refinement or a broadening of Ash Borer's core sound. It's almost like a black metal Rorschach test. But that said, everyone seems to agree that it's very good.

From my perspective, The Irrepassable Gate is a refinement. The sound is unmistakably theirs, but to my ears, they've tightened down their template and left some of their experimentation behind, especially when compared to the Bloodlands. The tracks are still long for black metal--with the exception of the two "Lustration" interludes, the shortest song still clocks in at nine and a half minutes--but for the most part the length is a non-issue, as the songs take on an almost hypnotic quality. Ash Borer does a couple of things that make this work: they play fast and slow tempos off of each other, sometimes simultaneously. The opening track starts off at almost a funeral doom pace, but that slow, dirty riff is eventually joined by increasingly frenetic rhythm and tremolo'd guitar underneath, which segues nicely to their other strength: layers upon layers playing off each other, sometimes sliding off of each other and other times propping each other up. These layers collapse back together at around the seven-minute mark, but it's not too long before we're off to the races again. There's a lot of repetition, but there are so many moving parts that you barely notice what's carrying you along.

Ash Borer 2014. Photos by Carmelo Española.

If I had to pick a couple of nits, I'd say that the song length doesn't always work in the band's favor. There's a three-minute-long ambient/noise-type break in the middle of "Lacerated Spirit," and I'm not sure it needs to be there. Tension release is handled very nicely by the shimmering "Lustration I and II" interludes, so I'm not sure any song needs this long of a release valve inside itself. That said, it's still pretty damn exciting when the song kicks back in. I also sometimes found the outro to "Grey Marrow" to be a bit of a drag, making my finger itch to skip ahead. But that's partly tempered by the fact that the next track, "Rotten Firmament," is damn near perfect over its nearly 13-minute length. The riffs are sweeping and majestic, and there's an almost palpable emotional progression through the song, even if you can't always pin simple words down to what the music is making you feel. All is forgiven when a band delivers a track like this.

I'd say that if you found Ash Borer's earlier work a bit too long and ranging a bit too far afield at times, they definitely deserve another listen for this album. I like the approach on this album as well as their earlier work, but this album is a nice demonstration of how a band can progress without re-inventing their musical wheel.

Tagged with 2016, Ash Borer, atmospheric black metal, Carmelo Española, Justin C, Profound Lore Records
2 comments:
  1. "everyone seems to agree that it's very good."

    Nah it's pretty bad. The production is awkward, the rhythm guitar barely has any presence at all (unlike their pre-Cold of Ages material), and the weird emphasis on the lead guitar makes the whole thing feel off-balance. The lack of WitTR ripoff atmospherics was a nice change, but the poor mixing robs it of being anything more than just "meh."

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