After his stint with the band The Broken Are Crowned, not to mention alongside time in No Heroes, now eighteen year old Nick Stanger, hailing from Minnesota, has gone the solo Black Metal route. Ashbringer, forged back in 2013, is his one-man Atmospheric child. Since then he went on to release the The Bitter Taste of Life's Only Certainty single in 2014, followed by this year's debut full-length, Vacant. It was originally released in April on limited CD format through Primal Relics Records, and independently through Bandcamp as a "name your price" download, that location also teasing a future cassette release. However, for late May, Avantgarde Music has picked it up for another run on compact disc. So, if you missed out on a physical printing, you still have time, though more than likely just as restricted as before. But is Vacant worth looking into, or is this entry into the ever growing USBM world destined to be swallowed up in the sea of like-minded musical beings?

As you would expect, Vacant carries itself with the typical raw, analog sound that is all the rage within the style today. The music itself remains fairly loud, though it all seems a bit at a distance, especially the echoing vocals. The bass guitar, however, does have a strong, noticeable presence on this release, often presenting an additional twang over tighter, faster moving material, such as the more Shoegaze oriented elements that kick off the album, and not when the music dies down to incorporate some colder atmospheres that show a hint of Pagan Black Metal or Folk Metal influence to the mix. The only major problem with the output, really, is that some of the guitars can actually end up sharp enough to nearly be ear piercing in pitch, which only seems to hit at the beginning, requiring you to bare with it for at least five minutes before the effects finally calm down.

"Ethereal Aura pt. I" creates a nice atmosphere with running water effects and some Ambience atop it, akin to Wolves in the Throne Room's recent Celestite album, but with some mournful clean vocals. As you approach two minutes in, you are greeted with what seems like a Viking crossed with Shoegaze touch, met with a herd of angry, pissed off bees in the guitars. The distortion used makes them a lot sharper, but a lot more tinny as well, growing louder and more obnoxious before finally dropping it as "Ethereal Aura pt. II" kicks in. Some of the melodies remain in the background, sometimes matching that shrill pitch, but, thankfully, are far more tolerable. What ensues blends in some of the aforementioned elements, though with a stronger Folk influence to add to the emotional impact of the music and pushed back further raspy shouting, all weaving an opus fuelled by nature more than the frozen atmospheres that appear later on the recording. However, the most impressive bit of this technically over ten-and-a-half minute composition is the laid back, groove-heavy closing, placing the emphasis largely on the bass guitar to put the listener at easy with the soothing, infectious riffs that make a nice transition point.

The only tracks to come close to the aforementioned are "Lonesome" and "Bitter". The former of those two is much like "Ethereal Aura pt. I" in that its more of an introduction than a full-length song. If you've seen the first few A Nightmare on Elm Street films, you'll already have chills down your spine during the incredibly eerie, almost dream-like state of the ambient material that lines the track, slowly building to allow some tribal percussion behind the bell-like notes of the keyboard and shrill static. The fluid progression is a fantastic start to the latter of the two songs, hitting the listener with fast-paced drums and emotional hooks in the lead guitars that stand as the perfect example of what raw Atmospheric Black Metal should sound like. Of course, when the speed drops, you can't help but feel as though the vocals are a pleading, painful cry for mercy against a sullen, wintry backdrop that leads to a mournful approach once more. Even the guitar solo keeps the depressing tone alive for what little time it has prior to the seven minute mark.

Unfortunately, not all the material is as diverse as the well executed "Ethereal Aura". "Lucid" is a solid performance that ends up far more restrained, something that Ashbringer does a fantastic job at, but also stands as one of the more traditional Black Metal performances. Traces of grim and frostbitten Nordic influences are felt throughout the snowcapped track and, while it's not bad, fans of the genre will still feel as though they've hard it all before. The passages with cleaner notes or vocals are few and scattered, as is the brief Shoegaze inspired solo just past the six-and-a-half minute mark, which offers a little more of a unique touch to help round out the performance. Even the early NWOBHM leads that erupt about a minute after it all starts are a superb addition, albeit an even shorter experience before the ambient climax and Midian-era Cradle of Filth-esque keyboards appear. Much of this can also be said for "With Vacant Eyes", though there's a little more technicality to the drums in certain bridges, deeper, almost snarling growls are introduced by four minutes in, and material similar to the just mentioned band don't seem to exist. In comparison, however, it ends up a little more memorable.

Vacant treads the line between being unique and traditional. While the first and last two songs show a good deal of diversity that can throw this release into a bit of a Progressive Black Metal world in an effort to create believable, long lasting atmospheres, the whole center of the album just doesn't capture the same strength you're met with, and parted from. But, as a whole, Vacant's also a very well rounded effort. Each track seems to naturally play off one another, creating an intertwined world across all six tracks present, four if you consider "Ethereal Aura pt. I" and "Lonesome" as introductory pieces to the tracks that follow them, which they genuinely seem to be. For such a young act, Ashbringer really shows a great deal of potential all around with Vacant, leaving you to expect great things from Nick Stanger in the future.

Review originally posted at Apoch's Metal Review.