17 May 2016

Ashbringer - Yūgen

Yūgen is the second album by Minnesotan Black Metallers, Ashbringer and is due to be released sometime around the beginning of June. Their first album, Vacant, was the work of one man, Nick Stanger, who performed all instruments and vocals. For Yūgen however, he has elected to expand the band's line up into a full, five man outfit. Whether that's made a difference or not I couldn't say, not having heard the previous release as yet.

On my first listen through it quickly becomes apparent that this isn't stereotypical Black Metal, or at least not the Black Metal I was expecting. There's not a hint of corpse paint, no Satanic or Gothic imagery and lyrical themes. Instead there's lush soundscapes and soaring atmospherics. Yes, the vocals are the harsh screams indicative of Black Metal but they're sporadic and quite low in the mix. To be honest, they aren't really necessary and Yūgen might be better served as an instrumental piece of work. It's also not really that heavy and I'd be hard pushed to say it's even Metal at all. Manowar certainly wouldn't. There's occasional bursts of it but I'd say it was more Post Rock with Progressive influences than Black Metal.

The opening track is a monster. Solace is almost 11 minutes long and, by far, the longest on the album. It fades in with an ominous drone before kicking in after abut a minute and a half with some harsh riffing and harrowing vocals After a few minutes we're all of a sudden in slow, atmospheric B-Movie synth and Folkish acoustic guitar territory. The band gradually filter in and eventually kick in properly again. It's a great song and doesn't feel like it's long for the sake of it, it doesn't drag or outstay it's welcome.

Oceans Apart is next and curiously lightweight. If it wasn't for the screamed vocal it could almost be an Alt Rock song, albeit one with a punishing, ululating riff, a haunting piano interlude and some nice guitar flourishes throughout. There's some brief clean vocals towards the end that remind me a little of French Prog-Metallers Grorr.
Following that, heralded in by the sound of rain, is Lakeside Meditation. Another long song, though much shorter than Solace at a mere seven minutes. Again it doesn't feel like an overly long song. It's dripping with atmosphere but also is quite nod along too. I really like this one.
In Remembrance is all light and shade with a real sense of tortured misery that leaves me feeling all sad inside without really knowing why. It's builds to a very dramatic closing crescendo. Anothert excellent track.

Celestial Infancy begins with some reverb and gentle strumming, Draped in echoes comes some understated clean vocals along with some soft piano. The harsh vocals are soon back but that brief respite was appreciated. The whole song very gradually builds in intensity before letting go halfway through. It's the nearest thing to a ballad on the album and conjures up images of alien or otherworldly landscapes both desolate and beautiful. Apologies for how wanky that sounds.
The title track is next and Yūgen features a guest female vocalist who remains unknown to me. Anyway she brings a great quality to the song and it's a welcome departure.
Omen is a short interlude of a song that boasts an appearance by that most supreme of all instruments of Metal: The mighty Oboe.

The final track is Glowing Embers, Dying Fire which is the closest thing on offer to typical Black Metal. That is until after about 3 minutes it becomes dreamy and emotive Post Rock that gives way more and more for the last five minutes until the song peters away leaving behind a sense of loss and sadness. Bit depressing,

One thing I noticed about listening to Yūgen is that I often didn't know which song I was listening to. normally that would be taken as a bad sign but with it's more because the albums seems to be intended to be listened to as a single piece of music rather than a selection of individual tracks. The song titles aren't that important and neither is differentiating between each song, it's that whole that's important.
I had no idea what to expect from Yūgen but I wasn't expecting to enjoy it quite as much as I did.

7 out of 10 - This is good and well worth a check.

Best Track: In Remembrance

You can't buy Yūgen yet but you can eventually on Bandcamp HERE

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