Ashes (United States Of America) – Nihilist

‘Nihilist’, Ashes’ EP off the heels of the project’s first demo, ‘Grief’, is one of the greatest leaps upward in quality between two releases I’ve ever heard. ‘Grief’ was competent and enjoyable if somewhat non-descript depressive black metal, but ‘Nihilist’ bursts forth with a completely original style of agonizing black/doom metal as if Black Bile met Trist in a mist-filled forest somewhere. Ashes on this EP manages to combine the depression and self-loathing of suicidal black metal with the morbid, haunted atmosphere of the most extreme of doom metal into a single entity that sounds like nothing else in the metal scene today. It is perhaps some of the most nakedly ugly music in the black metal scene today, and I can’t imagine something that the genre needs more right now.

Mid-era Burzum is clearly a big influence here, but those influences are employed through some of the more subtle elements that made those albums so great. Vocals, like those of Varg, are wailing screams and moaning rasps that have been completely distorted, leaving the sound a dry husk that only barely approaches human. The repetitive riffing incorporating the occasional slow arpeggio is also similar, but even Burzum was never so breathtakingly dismal (not that it necessarily should have been). The music on this EP almost reminds me of Gallhammer in certain ways; the trudging zombie shuffle that forms an approximation of rhythm and pace, the heaving, slow instrumentation, and the gloomy, desolate, and apathetic atmosphere it all carries. The fastest this release gets is somewhat close to moderate, but the majority of the music here is based off slow, soulless crawling towards nothing in particular.

It’s hard to imagine any other music that so perfectly captures the true essence of emptiness, confusion, and vacant withdrawal from the world’s desires and expectations. It’s music that represents the ultimate in ‘I give up’. Every scream is the last, each vaguely atonal yet still melodic riff played with no rhythm but straight notes and no feeling but that of existential dread is an epitaph, and each rote, distant click of the drum machine seems to be indicating that the computer will soon be crumbling into silicon dust. Not much black metal these days conveys as much feeling as this does, and even more rarely communicates it so articulately and succinctly. Not to mention the originality; the combination of USBM-style tremolo riffing over sparse drum machine and wild vocals isn’t something that sounds fascinating written, but it is highly unusual and thrilling when heard. The best comparison I can make is to Canadian artist Bloody Ritual, where this sludgy, ‘slowly succumbing to a flesh-eating virus’ style of black metal has been seen before, albeit in a somewhat different manner.

If Wormphlegm covered Happy Days, this would be the result. Utterly grey, bleak, and hopeless music is the name of the game here, and if you’re into something so oppressive, this is absolutely stunning. It’s a lumbering, decaying giant of post black metal, almost resembling a tiny Tyranny in its doomsday stylings. While other bands are going for better riffs, more Satanic lyrics, and faster drumming, Ashes has taken a much harder and more abstract route to communicate its message. It’s interesting that Ashes manages to eschew so many typical metal features; there’s little in the way of ‘riffing’, the song structures are very linear, asymmetrical, and unwieldy, and the general feel approaches more Animus than Dark Funeral. It’s not black metal for those whose definition of that genre begins and ends with Darkthrone. For those who love the gloomier, more ancient and decrepit side of the style, though, this is a truly excellent release that sets Ashes as one of the main artists to watch in today’s crowded USBM scene.

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~ by noktorn on January 13, 2008.

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