Norse – Ascetic

Band: Norse
Title: Ascetic
Label: Transcending Obscurity Records
Release Date: 8 October 2021
Country: Australia
Format Reviewed: Digital download

Norse define themselves as a “dissonant black metal entity”, which feels wholly appropriate, not just because of the harsh, cold and brutal sound of Ascetic, the band’s fourth full-length record, but also the impression of these sounds coming from something not quite human. Ascetic is indeed a bleak and merciless record, full of jagged shards of guitar, pulverising, mechanised drums and monstrous, howling vocals. It’s also one of the most devastating Extreme Metal releases I’ve heard in a long while. I’d call it a banger, but… well that might make it sound like this is party time. No parties here.

To my deep shame I must confess that I never heard Norse before this record, so I can’t say how this compares to the band’s previous releases or what kind of progression in sound there has been over the years. The band is credited mysteriously as ADR handling themes and vocals, and Forge delivering all arrangements, instrumentation and mixing.

To describe the sound that Ascetic have created on this record it’s something like an ice-cold, dystopian, cancerous death march. Everything is cold, everything is harsh and it’s relentless. That doesn’t sound like a party, and it isn’t one, but within this grim, black auditory assault the arrangements and delivery are absolutely masterful.

Take the opening title track with its deep, ominous bass and guitars that flutter and slice like robotic insects in a death spiral, or the following track Parasite Warmongers, with clanging offbeat guitar that sounds like industrial machinery being struck with lead pipes, while there are plenty of passages where the punishing percussion hammers into your skull without remorse, there’s usually some odd, offset rhythms or sudden, dark, ambient breaks that give a kind of breather (but not any light).

Opening with glitchy feedback like there’s a problem with the headphones or speakers, Fearless Filth Seeker soon kicks in to reveal a track that’s absolutely monumental. The bass is suitably sleazy, and the music has a great, slithering, harsh quality to it. This track floored me the first time round and every time I hear it I can appreciate just how well this music is put together.

By album closer Useless the album is just starting to feel like it’s running out of ideas and there’s only so much of this remorseless punishment I can take, but this thought only comes right at the end after many highlights, like the slowly spreading black death of Accelerated Subversion, which hammers out all living things in its path, and the devastating, volcanic avalanche of Zero Insight. Not to mention that the pacing of the album is well judged too. Just when you think the music won’t stop battering you, there’s some weird Post-rock or ambient passage. All together the 42min runtime feels just about right.

In a recent interview Forge listed albums by Emperor, Mayhem, Pig Destroyer and Morbid Angels as all time favourites. All these references make sense to the sound of Ascetic, but only once you hear it. The first two bands highlight the grim aggression, while the punishing drums of Morbid Angel circa Gateways to Annihilation can maybe be heard in the frequent percussive assaults on this record. Pig Destroyer is the most revealing reference point to me as there is a wild creativity to this record that the uninitiated might just take to be relentless harshness. If you can cope with the brutality of this record and if you relish extreme music, there’s a lot to get into here and with each repeated listen more subtle elements in each track rise to the surface.

Due for release on October 8th on Transcending Obscurity Records, the album is (among other formats) available as a bundle with another great new release from the label, the tremendous new album by Veilburner, Lurkers in the Capsule of Skull. While both bands are wildly different they could make a great companion, two of the best examples of out of this world, cutting edge Extreme Metal. Ascetic may be devastating, but for a harbinger of heartless destruction it sure is exhilarating. 8.5/10 Tom Boatman

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8.5/10 To greatness and glory!
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