First add a part of Wilderun. Then take a measure of Caladan Brood, mix in a trifle of Summoning. Next forget about the drum machine of the latter two and replace their ever-present synthesizer with a real band. Not that the sophomore album Yügen from Ashbringer is devoid of synthesized elements, far from it. But compared to the highly electronically laden work of some Black Metal acts, this is music made by real people – if you get my drift. The fact that the band members are mostly still in their late teens is just another jaw dropping fact, looking at the very mature and professional approach they take to music.
Nick Stanger, the mastermind from Minnesota in the US of A. behind all these shenanigans and lyrics present on Yügen, changed from a one-man-do-it-all on their first album Vacant to a full band for this record. And this shines positively in a much more mature and indeed still ripening style and approach to their tune. I like the way they switch from some airy parts, seemingly coming from some long-gone Pink Floyd-ish substance-induced state to Black Metal in a heartbeat. And it is done without the menace you feel with Myrkur, when she stops the airy-fairy and starts screaming. Yügen is more a projection of a landscape painted by sound.
And I am grateful they did not opt for one of those atrocious intros and got straight into their tune. Starting the record with Solace, a dreamy, somewhat laid back track of some 10+ minutes to kick this off. The acoustic guitar interlude in the middle – even if dismally executed – followed by some riffing in this same part renders this track very alluring. Reminds me of the early work we found with Mike Oldfield, without the Black Metal part of course. Solace gets you a real taste of Atmospheric Black Metal the way they understand it should be played. And they are not far off the mark. One of my favorites.
It is indeed this ability to project this airy progressive touch onto what is basically a Black Metal production. This gets you to keep your ears glued to the loudspeakers and what separates them from the mean crowd of Atmospheric Black Metal artists at large. Now, one of the best, if not THE best track on Yügen is Oceans Apart. Again marrying this dreamy, somewhat spaced-out soundwork with sudden Black Metal attacks is just irresistible to this metalhead’s ears. By the way a flawless shift from one track to the other, speaking to the great quality of production. And this is getting you a melodic piece of Black Metal that is frankly remarkable. Some of the raspy vocals on that one would do Rorcal proud.
A female guest singer – Elizabeth Redding – appears on the title track Yügen adding more salsa to an already spicy track. Again at first going progressive and not sure where this is all moving towards, it suddenly and deliciously slithers into the abyss. The aforementioned similarity of some elements to Wilderun always strikes me anew in this track. This tendency is again confirmed in the two last kind of symbiotically joined tracks Omen and Glowing Embers, Dying Fires. The last and very worthy contribution to a great album.
And there is really nothing amiss on this record? As always, you got some stuff that fell into the mud. For instance the male chanting at various parts and ends of the album – for example in Lakeside Meditation – will either make you cry in despair or reduce you to a helpless pudding of mirth. This is like Caladan Brood misunderstood – CB got the chanting down pat, but this attempted copy ain’t working.
And where did this drum machine disappear to? ‘Cause this might have done the trick too. Percussion as it is played in Yügen sounds like something that got lost in translation somewhere. Cymbals murdering the clicky drum work, but not much else. Not sure where this one went wrong that much. The drums are generally way too present, kind of drowning out everything else in parts of the record. Better mastering might have helped, but I don’t think it would have fixed the issue. Does this turn Yügen into a bad album? No, absolutely not.
I am impressed by the musical prowess, the ability to project Atmospheric Death Metal onto the unsuspecting listener with the promise of vast open lands lurking somewhere behind yonder mists that are obscuring the view. Well, for sure it got my attention real quick. One of these rare records able to connect at an almost subconscious level. And this is where Ashbringer‘s strength lies.
The album will release globally on 7 June 2016.
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