Ashbringer are not an average black metal band. Indeed, it’s debatable if they’re even primarily a black metal band at all. Absolution, the band’s third album, is reminiscent of Deafheaven’s Sunbather in its distinctly colourful album art, so far removed from the bleak blacks and whites of Darkthrone or Mayhem. Similarly, the songs on Absolution are likewise alien to black metal tradition, favouring spacious post-rock swells and shoegaze guitar work over blast beats and tremolo riffs. In this aversion to tradition Ashbringer both find a niche in heavy music for themselves and demonstrate the immensity of black metal’s reach into new territories.
What’s most staggering about Absolution is just how melodic it is, especially if you’re approaching it with expectations from the genre tag. The opening title track begins with a finger-picked acoustic guitar passage, not an especially shocking choice, but when the full band comes in it becomes immediately apparent what they’re about. The drums are big and the vocals are a harsh roar, both of which keep the songs tethered to a heavy metal mindset, but the guitar work is different, an often intricately layered dance between fleet-fingered melodic leads and rich chordal backing. If anything is the star attraction here, it’s Nick Stanger’s lead guitar work. While capable of stepping back to lace within a song’s framework, he’s also palpably eager to dazzle listeners with bluesy solos like the one in the title track or elicit tears with the soulful voicings in ‘Shrine of Loss’. The songs never suffer for that guitar emphasis though. Despite a long runtime at nearly 70 minutes, Absolution is front to back free of filler and by the end it will only leave listeners aching for more.
Absolution is out now and can be purchased here.
Words: Brett Tharp