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vendetta records # 135


released April 21, 2017

"When Ashbringer's Yūgen came out, Jon Rosenthal over at Invisible Oranges categorized it as atmospheric black metal but said he liked it, in part, because it's an "emo record at heart." Even though he cited it as a positive, those could just as easily be fighting words. If I hadn't heard the album before I read that, I might have kept right on going. But it's actually fair, and it's not a bad thing, either.

Ashbringer's first full-length, Vacant, was done by Nick Stanger alone, and it's a solid atmospheric black metal album. With Yūgen, Stanger has expanded the project to a full five piece (with the occasional guest), and with it, the project's sound has expanded and changed. The music is now bigger, heart-on-its-sleeve, bombastic black metal. The vocals are well within the fuzzy boundaries of black metal shrieks, but they also teeter just on the edge of breaking, not unlike...well, emo vocals. But it works, and I don't think you have to be in any way a fan of emo to enjoy this. (I'm, at best, a 0.5% emo fan, because I did really like Thursday's War All the Time back in the early aughts.)

It doesn't hurt that Stanger and co. are riff machines. There's plenty of tremolo'd goodness, like in "Lakeside Meditation," but they're also masters at creating single-line riffs that will get stuck in your head. I've had a descending line from the album opener "Solace" permanently lodged in my lobes ever since I heard it. What also helps move this music along is the band's understanding that you can't turn up the emotional heft to 11 and leave it there for a full album without exhausting your listeners. There are nice releases, like the acoustic interlude in "Solace" or the spacey interludes in "Celestial Infancy."

There are a couple of missteps toward the end of the album, although I think it's more a case of trying to push too far rather than a lack of skill. The title track has some great guitar work--including a neat staccato riff and some really cool experiments in guitar tone--but the clean vocals provided by Elizabeth Redding, while very well performed, never really gel with the rest of the song. The penultimate track, "Omen," shows off some guest trombone work and band member Cormac Piper's bassoon, both of which are very cool, but a sugary sweet melody enters in the middle that bears a strong resemblance to late 70s/early 80s Top 40. I can't lie--it immediately makes me think of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You" from 1975, and it's more than a little jarring.

That said, the band comes roaring back with "Glowing Embers, Dying Fire," which in spite of its title, brings back the black metal storm needed to properly close out the album in anthemic (and emo-y!) style. For an hour's worth of music, I'm more than willing to overlook a couple of blemishes in what, to me, is a very unique and strong contender in black metal for 2016." metalbandcamp


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Track Name: solace
A mist enshrouds my body
Insulating self illusions
A sudden disconnect
From willful ignorance
I wander aimlessly
Under grey skies
Submerging into
My most inner laments

The sight of blood overwhelms me
Seeping from my hands to the dirt
Ideals are vanishing before me
Into a void far out of reach
Becoming self aware
Regretting everything
Dysphoria overtakes me
Regression spirals

In solace, I dream infinitely

Landscapes dissolve around me
Merging into a shrine of loss
Frailness becomes apparent
Collapsing under weight
Celestial signs appear
Moonlight illuminating
The deepest depths
Of the grieving world I left behind

In solace, I dream infinitely
Of the grieving world I left behind
In shame, dreams become waste
Carve my epitaph here
Track Name: oceans apart
Lying alone on the shore
Beaten, bruised, and exhausted
Solemnly waiting in silence
Etching your name in the sand

As radiant as the sun
I can feel you
From many oceans away
Drifting further

I’ve waited so long
For just one moment
I’ve waited so long
To see you again

And I’ll wait forever

The waters rise
Grains of sand bind
The oceans become
Crystal clear

Lying alone on the shore
Disoriented and ashamed
I saw a light
It wasn’t you
Track Name: lakeside meditation
Here again
I couldn’t bear to see
Another souvenir

Empty and vast
This is it
The place I imagined

I can feel a spiritual presence
So faint but somehow familiar
The wind caresses me gently
The scent of spring reawakens

I am left here
To contemplate my place
To determine my role
In this infinite vastness


Silence in the distance
No shelter for miles
Stillness lingers
Beyond my senses

No, I no longer feel bound

The waters beckon again
Horizons blur

Spirits reside here
My feet ascend
Track Name: in remembrance
Standing here alone with you
In an unfamiliar place
Souls intertwined
Every part of me exposed

I never walked barefooted
I never searched for answers
I never forged my own path
I never sought a meaning

It always seemed the same, the earth could never be tamed
I couldn’t wash it away, the shame is here to stay
I hate the thought of your voice, in every possible way
Because I can’t remember what it sounds like

Clinging to fading images
In remembrance of you

I watched the light fade from your eyes
Like the sun becoming sand
I watched you draw your last breath
In harmony with the morning breeze

I watched the life fade from your eyes
I stood breathless
As you drew your last breath
I witnessed your departure

Standing here alone with you
In an unfamiliar place
Souls intertwined…

...In remembrance of you
Track Name: celestial infancy
Mind and body are one
Body and earth are one
Earth and sky are one
Sky and spirit are one

Here I stand at the threshold of existence
Falling deeper into my subconscious
Despite the loneliness I felt
It seems a distant memory now

I close my eyes and I can see
The birth of stars and their constellations
I can feel the energy surging
From the sun into my veins

“Dreamer, I can still feel your presence”

I became emotion
I became serenity
I can sense eternity
In my own reality

I became peace
I became chaos
And for the first time
I felt balance

Faller, did you feel the weight of the world?
Because I watched it all collapse
I stand before the earth
Unafraid and unashamed

Mind and body are one
Body and earth are one
Earth and sky are one
Sky and spirit are one
Track Name: yügen
Life begins anew
In infinite vastness
Abundant energy
Eternal meditation

Life ceases
Time halts
Earth and sky merge
Becoming transparent

Temporal transcendence
Immortal embodiment
In tranquility
Dreams become reality
Track Name: glowing embers, dying fire
I had never felt so helpless
Watching my decay
The scars were hidden too long
And could never be healed
I had never felt so lonesome
Yearning for a connection
Searching for a reaction
Raising my voice with no resonance

But then the shadows dissolved
I felt the gentle caress of the rain
All matter merged into one
I found myself in the universe
I watched life and death intertwine
And vanish before me
I became the fabric of light
And I embraced the world

Bleeding into one
Fading endlessly
Merging with the earth
I see clearly now
Colors I never imagined
Rivers becoming oceans
Sky reflecting landscapes
Continents drifting together

This is absolution
I see clearly now
It’s all so surreal
Become one

In union, we dream infinitely

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