Music by VICE

Lifting the Veil on Ash Borer's Thinking Man's Black Metal

Stream their new album 'The Irrepassable Gate' and read a rare interview with guitarist, vocalist, and Psychic Violence Records mastermind K.

by Cody Davis
Nov 29 2016, 3:08pm

On December 2nd, atmospheric black metal titans Ash Borer will release their third full-length, The Irrepassable Gate. The band has steadily grown in stature in its six years of existence, each obsidian blast helping to shape and define the American black metal sound. Their captivating, long-form take on black metal severity has continued to dazzle listeners; an overwhelming majority of their songs eclipse the 10-minute mark, and for many bands, this simply would not be a possibility. However, Ash Borer's astute ability to balance classic black metal rage against atmospheric forces have made them champions of the ever-shifting USBM landscape, and every demo, split, and LP reliably rakes in high praise from critics and adoration from metalheads everywhere (with Noisey as no exception).

Ironically, while their music is easily identifiable amongst their fervent fan base, relatively little is known about the members themselves. Ash Borer has no social media presence; in an era where fans are seemingly tied to a band's hip through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, they remain shrouded in silence. Interviews with them are sparse, and the quartet go simply by single letters. Yet, their success is possible because of their dedication to their craft. It is seen in a multitude of projects. Vocalist and guitarist K is also a member of Predatory Light and Vanum, and owns Psychic Violence Records. Bassist and vocalist R is the man behind the Vrasubatlat label, and is joined by drummer, M, and guitarist, A, in a number of its projects.

I had the opportunity to sneak some questions to K about the new Ash Borer album in an effort to momentarily lift the veil on the project. Fortunately, he was willing to set aside some time to answer. Read the transcript of our exchange and listen to The Irrepassable Gate (out December 2 via Profound Lore Records) in full below:

Noisey: The release of  The Irrepassable Gate  is creeping up; you must be pretty happy with all of the excitement surrounding the album?
K: Indeed, we're happy to get it out there. The positive response has been exciting to see.

R. has been recruited for additional vocals on The Irrepassable Gate. His added contribution seems to bring a darker flair to Ash Borer, much like his work on many of the Vrasubatlat label's bands. Was this something planned prior to recording the album or did this manifest in the creation of the album?
As on all previous releases I handle a majority of the vocal duties, but it was determined fairly early on in the writing process of this record that he'd likely share some of that burden, though the specifics of who was going to do what weren't decided until we were actually in the studio.

I was hoping to ask you about your reasoning for anonymity in your projects.
There's no such thing as anonymity in 2016, anyone with two minutes of spare time and a wifi connection can figure out who we are. That said, we aren't playing this music for scene credibility and weak ideas of Internet pseudo-fame and ego stroking, so we see no reason to overly attach our personal lives and names to what we're doing musically. The music speaks for itself. 

The Irrepassable Gate, from my perspective, places less emphasis on crafting atmosphere and more emphasis on more raw, straightforward black metal. I read in a prior interview that you are not a fan of descriptive terms like "Cascadian;" was there a desire to distance yourselves from the descriptors lingering around the creation of this album?
I'd actually argue that this is by far our most atmospheric record to date, both in composition and production, it just doesn't sound much like the genre of "atmospheric black metal." To answer your question though, we don't put much thought into what we want a record to sound like prior to getting to work on it. Generally speaking, and this album was no different, a few vague motifs will present themselves during some moment of inspiration, and will serve to guide us in terms of establishing a mood and from there the album as a whole. So, no, there was no specific desire to distance ourselves from a sound or to sound more like something specific. This was just exactly the record we wanted to make.

How much influence, if any, have your other projects (Predatory Light, Vanum, Cerebrate) had on Ash Borer's new music?
Those other projects have had more of a negating effect on what we write for Ash Borer than a true "influence." In one sense, they provide some melodic boundaries that thus help define the sound of Ash Borer a bit more clearly. Unconsciously, some of the sonics of those projects (as well as some of the Vrasubatlat projects) have likely seeped back into our sound in one form or another, it is the same people writing all of it after all. In general, I think that everyone in Ash Borer has become more interested pursuing the darker, aggressive end of strange metal over the years.

You have been a member of multiple projects as well as running a record label (Psychic Violence Records) for a number of years now. How do you successfully manage and balance the responsibilities each endeavor entails?
None of my projects are consistently active in a traditional band sense, which makes it fairly easy. Touring and recording are sporadic, so generally speaking I'm able to spend more time on one project or another for a while before shifting focus onto another one. I'm certainly always busy with music, but it's rarely too overwhelming.

As for Psychic Violence, it operates in a similar manner; I don't have regular release schedule and unless a release is brand new I don't have all that much mail-order to do, so it's something that can exist in the background of my life so long as I'm keeping a close enough eye on it to do fulfill orders once a week or so.

You're having a pretty successful 2016, between Ash Borer and Predatory Light releasing two great new albums within roughly three months of each other. How difficult is it to switch mindsets from one project to another? 
To contradict my previous statement a bit, recording those records back to back was one of the more overwhelming musical moments I've had, as literally the day after Predatory Light finished recording in New Mexico, I flew to the Northwest to start recording the Ash Borer record. Between those two records, it was quite the blizzard of riffs to keep track of!

However, switching mindsets/personnel wasn't particularly difficult. Both bands exist in fairly distinct parts of my psyche, and my bandmates in both projects are complete pros.

How much of a personal toll does travelling to record or perform your projects take?
How much of a personal toll does anything you commit your life to take? We've all been doing this for year and years and see no reason to stop. That said, we're not one of those bands that's on tour for 100 days a year. We choose how and when we want to record and perform and make it work accordingly. 

Your project with Michael Rekevics, Vanum, is currently in the recording stages of a new EP. Are there any updates you could share about it?
We're currently finishing up tracking it, so the plan is for it to be available this spring in time for the Ash Borer/Vanum European tour. Musically, it's a logical continuation of the sound we developed on Realm of Sacrifice, but with a more triumphant quality as opposed to the somber tone of that record. It's a bit more riff-forward as well, but it's ultimately not a huge departure in sound, anyone who liked the first record will enjoy this one as well. It was recorded again by Andrew Oswald, who also did the first record as well as the Predatory Light record and a majority of Ash Borer's back catalog.

I remember when I first started really delving into the United States black betal scene, Ash Borer was a name that constantly popped up as one of the strongest examples of USBM. The band is very favorably viewed by black metal fans. How would you compare what you do to some other bands that cause these sharp divides in opinion amongst fans of the genre?
I think the biggest difference between what we're doing and what some of the bands I assume you're referring to is that we're actually a metal band. I don't mean that as some sort of elitist statement, more the fact that we're not attempting to reinvent the wheel or reinterpret black metal as something that can exist for more mainstream consumption. We certainly have influences that have nothing to do with metal, but they're purely an influence on our music, not something that we're trying to steal pieces of to become part of their music, if that makes sense. We also haven't done anything fucking stupid to cause an uproar amongst nerds on the internet, and generally don't engage with press all that much, preferring to let the music do the talking.

Between you all in Ash Borer and your subsequent projects and labels and guys like Michael, the Skarstad brothers (Yellow Eyes), and their projects and labels in New York, you all have been building something very exciting over the last eight years or so. It seems, from my perspective at least, you all are ushering in a proper wave of USBM—something I've loosely described it as "thinking man's metal" before. Would you say that's accurate?
To some extent, yes. Though to be perfectly honest, I don't care much about how people interpret or view anything I'm involved with compared with the larger "metal" world. I think drawing those sorts of parallels is up to the listener, rather than something musicians should be caught up in themselves. I like plenty of music that you would never put the word "thinking" anywhere near in a sentence, but prefer for my own music to have at least a slight conceptual depth.

Where do you personally see the future of your music and involvement in metal going? Are there things that you would like to do or try?
I'm just going to keep writing dark and strange music, if it ends up not being for one of the projects I'm currently in, or not metal at all, I'll start another one that can explore that sound more fully. In a wider scope, I've been doing some engineering of my own, both for my own bands and some others, and I'd like to explore that world more going forward. I'm hardly at the level of being able to handle a proper full-length front to back, but maybe that will happen with time. Alternatively, I imagine in the future I'll just buy too many synthesizers and make a bunch of mediocre ambient records that no one really cares about.

Cody Davis is synthesizing on on Twitter.