Following up on their debut album from last year, Vacant, Ashbringer have stepped up with this prompt follow-up. Whereas Vacant was put together solely by Nick Stanger, Ashbringer have since expanded to a quintet, with Stanger handling vocals, guitar, and atmospheric engineering. Running just about an hour over eight tracks, Y?gen forms a showcase for the new line-up, and the results paint them as one to watch.
Having not heard their first album (yet), I can’t comment on how Y?gen stacks up against it; however, judged on its own merits, the group has put together a solid set of chilly black metal with an emphasis on atmosphere. Rather than shred and howl away without mercy, Ashbringer make use of highly melodic intervals (some featuring basically unornamented acoustic guitar) as contrast for the violent sections, in ways that reminded me of Agalloch’s The Mantle and Pale Folklore, or Battle Path‘s Ambedo for a more contemporary comparison.
One of the few downsides to the music is that the harsh vocals occasionally tread the line of sounding like something those damn teenagers might be listening to, though that’s a tricky border when trying to scream in an intelligible fashion. On the positive side, those wavers are infrequent to begin with, and some of their instances are balanced against deeper counter-point for a level of harmonic complexity beyond the initial associations. The songs themselves are impressive in their range and fluidity, as well as being generally effective in the moodiness they seek to evoke, though there are a few moments here and there in which the elaborate arrangements, enjoyable as they are, make for a bit of overkill. Another point in the band’s favor is that they use each song as a testing ground for certain elements (e.g., soaring wordless vocals in the title track, semi-medieval instrumentation in “Omen”) instead of jamming them in album-wide (though several get brought back for final track “Glowing Embers, Dying Fire”); it gives the songs an extra piece of distinction while letting the band get a practical sense of how they would work in larger deployment.
Altogether, it’s a great effort by the band, and while there is room for them to push things further with the next album, there’s not really any glaring problems to have listeners grumbling over what should have been done. It’s something to be enjoyed in its own way, and it provides a generous amount of material for that purpose.