Thursday 30 May 2019

Ashes of Yggdrasil - The Path (2019)

Country: Canada
Style: Melodic Death Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 May 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | YouTube

Ashes of Yggdrasil have been together for six years and I'm not seeing any changes in their lineup, but this is their debut EP so they've certainly taken their time putting it together. They're a melodic death band from way up there in the frozen wastes of the north, a little east of Edmonton on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan, and this is certainly a "grim up north" sort of release.

This sounds solid to me and not just from a melodeath perspective. Sure, the core of it is mid tempo death metal with a deep growling vocal from Brendan Wood but that's only the first component that points at a different genre. It's mostly intelligible, so we can follow many of the lyrics, but it's so guttural that I could easily believe that he's wearing a Viking helmet and carrying a bloody battleaxe while singing, especially on the opening track, Cry of the Valkyries, with his chorus echoing across the hills.

However, the pace varies a great deal. There are many slower points where the band ramp down to remind of early Paradise Lost, which means doom/death and slower melodies running over faster backing. There are speedy parts too that are clear enough to hint at thrash, especially when Ty Appleton's much higher and wilder voice briefly takes the lead. First to Attack and The Path both kick off like old school British thrash.

There are also points, like late in Arrows Fly High, when they nail a power metal transition and there were a few points where I heard Manowar creeping out of the shadows to make themselves known. Ashes of Yggdrasil really like to mix it up, which is always a positive point for me, and that's aided by some top notch production. Most debut EPs only dream of sounding this good!

There's no intro, so the EP gets right down to business, knocking out five tracks that are notably consistent in length, structure and quality. It's patient stuff, even at pace, drummer Robert Hayman notably restraining his performance to fit the style at hand, and the band really know how to end songs. The endings to First to Attack and Well of Urd are insanely simple but notably effective. It's almost a disappointment when Arrows Fly High just fades out.

On the negative side, while Wood's vocals have a deep and rich tone that I really dug, he's not able to vary it much at all. Frankly, he doesn't need to do that much but there are points, especially in slow, almost narrative sections, where it feels limited. Perhaps this is emphasised by the guitars which do the exact opposite. This is far from the repetitive and downtuned stereotype of death metal, but it's just as far from the Gothenburg sound.

The only other negative I found was in Cry of the Valkyries, as parts of it seem forced, like some of the transitions between styles. That's odd as the transitions are a highlight on the other tracks, but it feels like sections of this song had been trimmed away in the studio.

This is promising stuff though and I'd like to hear a full length album. Let's just not have to wait another six years for it, please!

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