Album Review | Asgrauw | IJsval

Asgrauw is a three-piece black metal band from the Netherlands. Pulled from their Last.fm profile Asgrauw is defined as “…the scythe shaped shining of the new moon and is a Dutch word for the grim and pale color of ash as well.” Poetic yet considerately apt when comparing this description to the band’s sound. Although one could argue many black metal bands could use this description there is no doubt the coldness of Asgrauw’s sound resonates with their write up.

IJsval, for the most part, is melodic and cathartic. It is occasionally ambient but also fast and chaotic at times but in my opinion, it never feels aggressive or harsh on the ears. I personally find the music to be relaxing. Texturally the mood of the music is tinged with a sense of sadness and awe. There are occasional hardcore punk sounding elements to this album, as the band note on their Bandcamp page: “Asgrauw has focused on the 2nd wave of dark, atmospheric & ice-cold Scandinavian black metal, joined with a shade of punk.” These parts function mostly as a transition or break up of the blast beat and double-kick laden passages, however, the effect they have on the dynamics of the music is undeniable. These breaks, as well as the acoustic and solo passages found throughout the album give the music a human feel. The form of it is progressive and it does not continuously fall back on traditional verse-chorus structures though there is repetition at times.

Performance-wise the album is spot on. All the tones of the instruments are inviting. The guitar is distorted and frosty with a tinge of reverb. Bass is slightly soft though this is not unusual for black metal. It can be heard if you strain your ears but for the most part, it is a non-event in the music. The drumming is superb and is generally the instrument holding your attention with virtuosic drum-fills heard almost every four bars; the grooves and blast beats mesmerizing. With an absence of bass, the drums basically carry the mix while the guitars and vocals serve as an ambient layer of subtly rhythmic and harmonic white noise. I found the vocals on this album particularly enjoyable. They vary between triumphant shouts and more traditional black metal guttural screams and screeches. Overall the album mix is fantastic and even the soft bass mix could be considered a good choice to give the music it’s icy quality, as too much bass can tend to make a mix feel warmer. An Interesting tidbit, the album was mixed by the band itself which means the album’s sound was unimpeded by external forces and personally is something I always love to see. Good job to them for a quality production.

Although I am loath to compare bands for those who might want something more specific to go on when making the decision on whether to listen to an album or not, I would say if you are a fan of bands such as Emperor, Wiegedood, or perhaps even Windir (just darker, minus the keyboards and fiddly leads), IJSval is one you will enjoy. 

To mention a few moments on the album I found particularly enjoyable: “Leeg”, the album’s first track, has a notable, 3/4 or 6/8 section which is a great addition to the song as these are time signatures one does not often in the genre. “IJsval” has a beautiful picked guitar passage at around the 6-minute mark. This might be one of my favourite parts of the album along with almost the entirety of track three, “Nevel”.

“Nevel” starts off sounding like a hardcore punk song and it would be if it were not for the guttural vocals presented by either Kaos or Vaal (the bassist and guitarist, respectively). At the 1:10-mark in this song the band shows it’s hardcore punk roots with a catchy riff and classical punk drumming. The song soon progresses into blast beats, however, I truly appreciate the band’s attention to dynamics. This building of rhythms towards the blast beats provides a natural feeling to the music and in turn, makes the blast beats more effective when they kick in. Music in which the drummer blasts throughout the album, starts to wear thin very quickly and the ‘heavy’ effect is soon lost, or at least for me. This might be my favourite track of the album.

The last track of the album, “Wanorde”, features some samples at the beginning and the end. It starts with what sounds like a crowded sporting event or stadium and concludes with a sample that includes crowds and police sirens. I cannot find any of the lyrics of the band online but the track title translates to disorder so maybe we can glean that the sample is from some sort of public disturbance, a possibly fatal or criminal one, though without any lyrics to go on these are just speculations. The song itself is the embodiment of a bitter winter and although it might be my open window, I do feel a slight wind coming from the speakers.

These are just some stand out parts of the album for me, however, there are many more and if I were to include them all in this review it would definitely be too long so I will leave it at that. With all that said I would definitely recommend IJsval to anyone. It is a more than solid black metal release and it might be a contender for one of my favourites of the year, though we can’t get too ahead of ourselves just yet as this year still has a while to go.

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Vinyl copies of IJsval are already sold out on the Death KVLT Productions Bandcamp page but you can still grab a digital copy. You can also peruse the rest of their discography on their personal Bandcamp page.

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