The serendipitous nature of 2016's metal luck (at least to these ears) seems to be showing no signs of pausing anytime in the near future. The greats have, and will be providing the genre with wonderful works, and the diamonds in the rough have been emerging to challenge those already established with youthful confidence. One such band is Minnesota's Ashbringer.
I would highly doubt anyone is more worthy of the descriptor, "youthful confidence", than Ashbringer. Seeing an 18 year old perform and compose every instrument with clarity of thought and intentional songwriting chops beyond his years was impressive enough, but 2016 sees Nick Stanger as exuberant as ever; Yugen outshines Vacant in every aspect, and rightfully so. A gorgeous expedition through luscious soundscapes aided by an oriental tint, Ashbringer present one of the most invigorating, raw, and enjoyable adventures the genre has seen so far this year.
A stunning palette of colliding synths and cavernous leads are a wonderfully enticing introduction to Yugen's expedition. The density of the synth work transitions beautifully into continuous force as the band blast and shred their way into the spotlight. The bridge between dynamics, and the melodic measures taken to pair riffs together are implemented flawlessly; a direct, technical edification from Vacant which suffered from occasionally poor cohesion decisions. A serene acoustic interlude, a passionate solo, and the song marches out confident that it opened Yugen well.
"Solace" stands as a perfect representation of this album's greatest strength; beautifully paced, dynamic songwriting. As the expedition ventures forth into "Oceans Apart", and "Lakeside Meditation", individualism and consistent theme work hand in hand to paint vivid, honest images of the changing world of Yugen. There is no star track on Yugen, and with very good reason. Ashbringer have grabbed diversity by the reigns, exploring every nook and cranny of atmospheric black metal's melodic side, and returning only with choice picks.
The title track's swirling entrance and firestorm crescendo left me with the same, awestruck buzz as the proceeding interlude that falls under three minutes. It is in the absolute majesty of Yugen's songcraft that its primary issue arises. Percussion on this record often struggles to stand up against the intense weight of the melodic musicianship. It definitely holds its own for the most part, but it seems that the naivety of Vacant has been almost entirely uprooted while the drumming remains stuck in the ground.
When considering the overall sound of the album however, this is but a minor flaw, and a gentle reminder of humble beginnings. When hidden among layers of synths and cascading guitars, it serves as a solid foundation, but its presence does protrude a little too heavily during breathing spaces. The scope and grandeur of the world it is occupied in does more than enough to distract any mishaps, however.
2. Oceans Apart
3. Lakeside Meditation
4. In Remembrance
5. Celestial Infancy
8. Glowing Embers, Dying