One could argue that black metal, as a genre, comes closer than any other kind of music to divorcing known terrestrial sounds entirely. Meaty, distorted guitars eke out unholy tones that would have been banned at certain points in human history for being demonic; drum barrages are so fierce they erase time; vocals are transfigured into inhuman rasps and howls. Familiar instruments become terrifying and alien, pushed past their known limits. Black metal is the auditory equivalent of getting battered into oblivion by solar winds.
And yet, black metal is inherently rooted to the earth in that it is governed by locality. There’s a certain theory of terroir at play within the genre. Just as the topography and climate of a region will influence its crops, the sound of black metal varies by region, settling into dialectical variations like language. The Pacific Northwest produces some of the genre’s most strongly accented music, to the point where the subgenre of Cascadian black metal has become an institution unto itself. These bands take metal’s undercurrent of cold, blinding rage and temper it into a sense of desolation. Perhaps this distinction is due to the landscape itself; maybe being surrounded by snowcapped peaks and primordial rainforest inspires something more majestic than just anger. The music is all grandeur and solitude, like wandering into a blizzard.
Ash Borer is not technically a local band, originating in the deep-southern-Cascadia town of Arcata, Calif., land of centuries-old sequoias and legendary marijuana. Yet signs point to Ash Borer making inroads in our city, much like the clear-winged moth from which it takes its name. Their reclusive vocalist and guitarist, known only as K, runs Psychic Violence Records—located in Seattle, according to its website. Furthermore, The Irrepassable Gate, Ash Borer’s latest release—produced by Seattle’s Randall Dunn, no less—has them sounding like born-and-bred locals.
The title track, nearly 12 minutes long, starts the album at full bore with a prime example of the band’s ambitious song structuring. Its solemn, heraldic guitars give way to tumultuous progressions as fast and stinging as sleet. It ricochets between creeping, drum-heavy disquiet and bombastic noise, with vocals so reverb-soaked they sound as if they were recorded in a sea cave. It’s a lot to take in, so halfway through the record, in a clever move, the band gives us “Lustration I” with its meditative, chiming chords—four minutes at the eye of the storm before launching back into the deluge. The album’s climax, “Rotten Firmament,” with its blistering, mournful guitars, sees Ash Borer tapping into some of black metal’s customary, mosh pit–ready anger. “Lustration II” closes everything; brief and contemplative like its mid-album counterpart, it feels like descending a mountain after an arduous journey. Ash Borer with Hissing, Bell Witch. Highline, 210 Broadway E., highlineseattle.com. $10. 21 and over. 9 p.m. Thurs., Jan. 19.