Ash Borer‘s place in the black metal canon is an enviable one, no matter which side of the opinion spectrum you might land. They made their name on the strength of an early lo-fi cassette, the sort of kvlt relic that built the careers of bands such as Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer (and more recently, Windhand and Pallbearer). They maintain an air of mystery and a commitment to no-bullshit, pageantry free melodic darkness that’s admirable in an age of Internet accessibility and after spiked shoulder-pads have lost some of their sting. Yet they’re also part of a lineage of atmospheric West Coast black metal bands that veer on shoegaze and post-rock at times, which finds them in good company with the likes of Bosse-de-Nage and Wolves in the Throne Room, the latter being the black metal band that got most of the flak from hardliners before Deafheaven were there to pick up the baton. Yet it’s likely because of that shadowy marketing sensibility, that thriving in the darkness that Ash Borer has mostly avoided any whiff of falseness.
There’s also the music, which across three outstanding full-length releases now has proven to be some of the strongest black metal in recent years. That they’ve managed to pull off a series of musically compelling albums, up to and including new album The Irrepassable Gate—their follow-up to 2012’s Cold of Ages—without diverting far from their chosen genre’s stylistic sensibility is all the more impressive. Given that bands such as Panopticon, Zeal and Ardor and Palace of Worms have put black metal into such far-reaching contexts, the idea of staying in one’s lane is becoming less of a concern. Yet Ash Borer’s style has been more about playing off of black metal’s inherent qualities—abrasion, intensity, noise and melody—and exploring them in greater depth. “Lacerated Spirit,” the album’s second track, veers back and forth between moments of dark ambient static and driving, even somewhat accessible metal ferocity. It’s both a deconstruction of its elements and a reconstruction of them, all within a stunningly unrelenting 10-minute progression.
The Irrepassable Gate certainly does cover a wide series of sonic approaches, made all the more explicit via a pair of moody instrumental pieces titled “Lustration I” and “Lustration II,” respectively. What they add is mostly a sense of pacing more than anything, since Ash Borer’s tracks tend to run pretty expansive lengths and cover a lot of ground within a single composition. Ultimately, that’s what makes Ash Borer so continually compelling. Their compositions are impeccable; any other piece of trivia about them is essentially just that.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.