The absolute least you can say about Ash Borer’s Cold of Ages is that it’s a perfect primer on post-Burzum atmospheric black metal. Thankfully, it’s so much more than that.
The album starts with three minutes of what sounds for all the world like the obscure Cure track “Carnage Visors”: all brooding synth lines with a spare, simple guitar lead plucked over the top and repeated. Slowly, feedback and dissonance creep in, as if the cold and pristine nature of the track is decaying before our ears. Suddenly, drums kick in and we are immersed in a whirling maelstrom of dark energy. Ash Borer shifts effortlessly from blastbeats to doom-laden plodding tempos, from four-on-the-floor thrashing madness to expansive atmospherics, and that’s all in the first song. Of course, the first song is nearly 17 minutes long, so there’s some room to stretch.
One of the many impressive things about this album is the construction of the tracks themselves. It consists of only 4 tracks, all ranging from 11 to 18 minutes, yet it holds the listener in rapt attention throughout. Each track is made up of smaller movements, each stylistically and thematically unified, yet containing such strong and naturally developed dynamic shifts that you’re engaged and pulled along with ease as the songs make their journey through constantly-changing terrain.
Musically, this young band deftly executes the complexities of these songs with a handling that few groups with longer histories would be able to pull off on a good day. In particular, drummer M is a monster, changing gears with nary a misstep, playing with precision as well as with a looseness that allows the songs to breathe. Vocalist K’s unholy screams rip through the album’s many layers, fueling them with rage, terror and anguish, while the second half of the album features the vocals of Worm Ouroboros’ Jessica Way, lending a strange and eerie beauty to those compositions.
The album’s closer ends as its opener began, with what sounds like a “Carnage Visors” homage. Brooding synth lines paired with spare, lonely guitar lines. But this time, haunted. Not cold, but warm and murky. What went before has been changed by what has been encountered as we went along.
Such a remarkable album. It’s more than just a great addition to Profound Lore Records’ roster; it’s a defining record, both for the band and for atmospheric black metal itself.