When one thinks of one-man black metal projects, one immed… WAIT, WHERE ARE YOU GOING!??!?!? NO, COME BACK HERE!!! WHY ARE YOU LEAVING? Yes, I know, another one-man black metal band. But this one is different, I swear! Come back… it’s okay… I love you. *clears throat* Now, where were we? Ah yes, when one thinks of one-man black metal projects, one immediately either thinks of either Xasthur or some dude making whooshing wind noises over trebly guitars. 18-year old Minnesotan Nick Stanger set out to prove everyone wrong with his Ashbringer project, capturing the sounds of the Pacific Northwest with his debut, Vacant. Will Bedroom Metal™ finally have a new name to champion?
Well, he may not be the new name in one-man band projects, but he impressed the living hell out of me nonetheless. At such a young age, Nick already has a fairly strong grasp of songwriting skills and atmosphere. The two-part “Ethereal Aura” does a great job setting up the listener for quality folk-influenced black metal, the first part being gently strummed acoustic guitar with some deep baritone singing before we get some trebly, heavily-feedbacked guitars and Stanger’s rasps, bleeding into the “Oh hi, Oregon! How are you?”-influenced second part, complete with tremolo harmonies, thick robust bass, and the occasional quiet moment here-and-there. You will picture throne rooms occupied by wolves, dudes with antler fetishes, and lots and lots of trees. But the thing is it’s performed quite capably, considering it’s one very talented, very young dude.
Each of the six tracks on here, with minor exceptions, do a great job of not feeling like their near-ten minute individual time length (barring the aforementioned “Ethereal Aura pt. I” and “Lonesome,” as both clock under four minutes, and the 11+ minute closer, “Bitter”), feeling a whole lot shorter but definitely engaging. Stanger’s has a strong command of every instrument played on Vacant, especially his fluid bass work, which reminds me an awful lot of Opeth‘s darker moments ala My Arms, Your Hearse, especially on “With Vacant Eyes” and “Lucid.” For such a young guy, his clean vocals also present some strength early on in his career, resembling a younger Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) during the album’s more restrained moments. But what impresses me most about Vacant is the sheer amount of atmosphere dripping from Stanger’s capable hands. The instrumental “Lonesome” is a strong case for this, as there’s a simple keyboard melody of harmonic chimes, and bongos panning hard left and right, fully enveloping the listener, and pulling them into his sylvan world.
And with some exceptions, the album is produced capably well. The tambourine sounds a bit off on “Lonesome,” but otherwise this is a pretty dense, richly produced album. If any complaints are to be had, it’s with the song length. I feel more could be said with a little less (“Bitter” goes on for a bit too long), and boredom can come creeping around the corner if not careful. Thankfully, Vacant avoids most of the pitfalls that one-man black metal bands face when it comes to songcraft and execution.
Ashbringer is an intriguing prospect. Having spent a good week listening to it, I found myself often wishing I was back home in New Hampshire, fishing with family or having a cigar by the campfire. The fact that this is helmed by a talented young man shows me that there’s more to be heard, and it will be damn good, I’m sure. Highly recommended. See, that wasn’t so bad… *pets you gently on the head*