I look upon the squiggly logo lightly imposed upon a dusky, yet colorful landscape and I realize that almost a half an hour has passed. Boy where does the time go? I finally break out of my trance and hit the play button, having queued up Asgrauw’s third offering, Gronspech. Well, I could have seen that coming miles away; this is quintessential 90’s black metal. Normally I feel ambivalence towards this particular strain. It drains me, the grating guitars and the wanton shrieks sapping my will to continue more quickly than most other subgenres of metal might. But this time I am finding myself once again entranced by what Asgrauw have on display. What is it about Gronspech that is keeping me wrapped around its sinister finger?
Asgrauw closely studied the template set by the second wave of 90’s black metal. They don’t entirely mimic their predecessors, but you can hear that bands like Darkthrone and Emperor made an impression on the Dutch trio’s sound. Luckily, there is a darkly melodic component to Asgrauw’s music which so deeply pervades this album that it successfully differentiates the band from their contemporaries. Lyrics—delivered entirely in Dutch—detail myths and legends of the band’s homeland, which tastefully seasons the record further with authenticity and mysticism.
Gronspech is a record chock full of intriguing and entertaining moments. “Plétsmajoor” sets the tone, weaving trem-picked leads and riffs courtesy of Vaal. Blasted volleys of percussive violence via Batr’s eargasmic drums and a pleasantly prominent rumble emanating from Kaos and his trusty bass provide a potent undercurrent, while croaked rasps and screeches extracted from the abused throats of both Vaal and Kaos (though distinguishing the two has been an exercise in futility) top things off. Follow up “Wolvenbloe.d” woos its listeners with an infectious melody and great flow on the part of the vocalist(s), plus some excellent drum fills littering the expanse. And again, album highlight “Sgoer” impresses with a sickening trem-picked riff and perfect runtime. “Duitenpact” is another choice cut, replete with blackened intensity that propels forward into the equally energetic “Gelgehei.j.”1 Strengthening the entire album is tight packaging, with Gronspech only consuming forty-eight minutes of my time over nine tracks all under seven well-managed minutes. Smart, simple and effective.
Criticisms that I can level at Gronspech are neither dealbreakers nor are they insignificant. The first and most obvious for me was that some tracks contained blips at the very beginning which sounded like the last second or two of the previous song. It won’t be a problem for the rest of you as the effect does not manifest on streaming services like Bandcamp, but it was noticeable and irksome for yours truly. Furthermore, the guitar tone comes off a tad too raw for my tastes and therefore makes replaying this album more than twice in one sitting difficult to justify. Thankfully, the bass and the drums sound relatively full-bodied in the mix and often balance out what could have been an entirely unpleasant experience. Lastly, songs like “Kiste Trui” and “Zwotte Ruïne” just aren’t as satisfying as the album’s highlights despite having precisely nothing specific to fault, while closer “Grafwè.gen” contains weaker melodies than what’s offered elsewhere, and therefore lacks the impact for which I yearn from a proper closing track.
If 90’s melodic black metal is your bag, then Asgrauw have got some serious goods on hand. For those who aren’t so attracted to that particular school, I would encourage you to check out Gronspech anyway. It has plenty to offer either party thanks to its intelligent design and skillful execution. Asgrauw might not find themselves on my year-end list, what with the slightly irritating guitar tone and a couple of lesser tracks, but it is certainly worth the base price of zero dollars and forty-eight minutes of your time.
- I’m seriously considering putting up a Bandcamp Bounty™ for the first individual who can decipher what the dots in these song titles are supposed to mean. Get cracking! ↩
- Or July 17, 2018. Or December 20, 2018. Fuck it, it’s 2019 and that’s the year the label chose to distribute promo, so deal with it. ↩