The first time I heard Ash Borer, I couldn’t take how dense and cold the music was. Here was black metal that didn’t cater to the fickle winds of the second wave, but through their own construction managed to evoke the icy nature of the music without being slavish to the genre. Evoking drone and doom as much as straight ahead black metal, it was distinctly American in sound, even as its tendrils stretched to otherworldly planes. When The Irrepassable Gate came out in 2016 I gave it another go and found my way in, through the winding melodies and cold depths of anguish.
It was only the sixth thing I wrote for Nine Circles, but looking back it was the first album that really pulled at me since writing for the site. It being their third full-length, it was the first time the band really looked to pull more melody into the metal, something I’m learning now is instrumental to connection for me: in everything I love there’s some kind of line to follow. Without it I can be intrigued…even mesmerized. But that innate pull on my soul doesn’t seem to happen unless I can detect a thread to grasp and follow to its logical (or not) conclusion.
Listening to the album today it’s the hints to melody that take me again, but there are moments, like toward the end of “Lacerated Spirit” where the chaos overwhelms for a moment and I can see in that juxtaposition just how incredible Ash Borer are when it comes to song construction. It’s in the building and release of tension that The Irrepassable Gate excels over their earlier efforts and allowed me to even gain entry to those albums.
You can read the full review I wrote for The Irrepassable Gate here, but I wanted to post a few thoughts from that original review to get the vibe across:
Featuring a gorgeously deep production that opens up the space between the instruments, The Irrepassable Gate smooths out some of the dark menace that came purely from its production style and puts it all in the songs. This is where being a musician fails you — three minutes into the opening title track and I get lost just falling into the maelstrom of colliding guitars and crashing cymbals. There are so many riffs coming and going it becomes dizzying, and when it finally slips into a slower pace you’re still hanging on every note. I hesitate to say there’s a newfound focus on melody in tracks like “Lacerated Spirit” and the two “Lustration” tracks that divide and end The Irrepassable Gate because that would give the impression Ash Borer have softened a touch. This isn’t the case at all. If anything, they’ve refined their musical intent to a sharp point, that confidence allowing them to open the sound up even more, maturing while embracing the more dissonant moments that characterized the earlier records. It’s almost futile to find a single high point to emphasize, but at 12+ minutes “Rotten Firmament” stands as the album’s epic: drenched in reverb and melancholy, it works as a master class in modern black metal — brutal howling vocals, copious amounts of tremolo picking and jagged tempos interwoven with crushing breakdowns wrapped in a fog of atmospheric keyboards and devilish drumming.
I’ve been searching for music to inspire me as I write the next Necrolytic Goat Converter album, and it may seem odd to find inspiration here if you’ve heard the kind of music I make (and if not, feel free to download anything here since it’s all Pay What You Want), but there are hints and echoes of things I want to try and see if I can incorporate. And that if nothing else – although there is a lot more than “nothing” else – is what keeps me coming back to the mystery that is Ash Borer and The Irrepassable Gate.