I recently reviewed the latest Ashbringer album and considering that they’re a band local to me, it only made sense to try and set up an interview of sorts with Nick Stanger, of whom Ashbringer was his solo project way back in the day. DM’s were slid into, messages were exchanged, and boom, it all became a reality. Not long after, Nick and I were seated together, sharing some of the absolute best pizza (and flan) available in the Twin Cities and talking about music. Being a band that I highly enjoy, what more could one ask for? I had Nick himself right in front of me, with full reign to pick his brains regarding the new album or the band in general.
At the time of us meeting together, it was just over a week or so ahead of We Came Here To Grieve‘s release. I was curious what he was feeling in the final few days leading up to this album finally being released as it’s been over four years since Absolution.
‘I’m just ready to have it out (chuckles), it’s been four years since we’ve put anything out, which makes me uncomfortable being someone in which making records is kind of my whole thing. We went through some shit during the pandemic, lost our drummer, so it took us a while to get back into doing stuff and now here we are finally. As for the new drummer (Andy Meyer), who we’ve known since high school, this is his first album with the band. Everyone that’s been associated with Ashbringer has gone to school with me in one capacity or another. Andy is a longtime friend and picked back up the drums after not playing for a long time just so he could join the band and help us out. He’s been an indisposable asset to the band in more ways than I can count.‘
The former drummer’s departure (and Andy’s arrival) was news to me, so I naturally wanted to hear more about how he has been involved and an asset to the band as Nick has said himself. Nick shared that he was mainly responsible for putting the album artwork together, in which the artistic style is a departure from what the band has done up until this point, and it beautifully juxtaposes the abstract, experimental nature of the music as well.
‘The center piece of the artwork is something that Andy took while we were writing and recording the album up in Two Harbors. Yeah, most of the effort was trying to figure out the colors, which was a huge part of the process. We ended up on the maroon/pink/blue-ish hues that you can clearly see. On top of the music, we’ve been developing a lot of visual supplemental material to go along with the album. A lot of it is random stuff we’ve been filming on our phones, lots of grainy/abstract shots here and there, put together in a way similar to how the final version of the album artwork turned out. We wanted to tie the visual aesthetic of the album to this side video project we’ve been doing. The background of the album artwork in particular is a few different pictures that we all took, on top of the flowing, stylized text that trickles downwards.‘
His mentioning of Two Harbors (a city in northern MN) caused me to recall my own trip up to northern Minnesota that my wife and I had taken in early 2021. We spent the weekend in Duluth and we did indeed drive up further north up from Duluth to Two Harbors. Despite being in the dead of winter, there were no shortage of sights to see and I already can’t wait to go back at some point when it’s warmer, but most especially during fall time. I mentioned that on the center piece of the artwork reminded me of the ice stacks along the shore of Lake Superior, so the fact that that was an abstract reinterpretation of that was pretty cool! I am surprised someone was able to interpret it that way, seeing it for what it partially was rather than being purely left to interpretation. Anyways, with Nick alluding to the fact that him and the rest of the band wrote and recorded the album in northern MN, I had him elaborate more on that.
‘We had a couple years where we were just in limbo, as none of us were creatively inspired, causing a huge lack of great ideas in which we’d eventually want to use with this band. We had some ideas we were throwing around that did end up informing some riffs here or there in some way or another, but most of the album was written and recorded in four days. We did a four day stay at an Airbnb in Two Harbors. At the time of us just heading up north, we already had two of the songs fully written instrumentally (“Pages” and “Permanence”) and other than that, we wrote and put together the rest of the album during those four days. Not only did we write but also recorded it all in that short time span.
‘I don’t want to say it was all thrown together in a rush as that was certainly not the case, rather it was the type of situation where we got there (recording studio in Two Harbors) and the entire band were all on the same mental wavelength, to the nanometer! As a direct result, we wrote incredibly quickly. We were as productive as can be with our limited time in a place that is totally different to what we’re used to. We had absolutely nothing to do there but write and record, so that’s how most of the songs came about. Two of the songs we wrote partially after the fact, but yeah, most of the album come together during those four days up in Two Harbors.‘
Hearing this left me incredibly impressed (not only because of the god tier Argentinian-style pizza that we were eating), as I can far too easily imagine being stuck on a single, tricky measure from one song alone for four days. Writing and recording essentially an entire album in such a small window of time is just insane to me. One thing I mentioned to Nick that I also talk about in the review is how direct the music on We Came To Grieve is compared to any of his earlier works, say Absolution for a precise example. Having learned this information of the four day turnaround, I had asked if this had a direct effect on how straightforward the music turned out (compared to previous releases).
‘Going into this record, one thing that we for sure wanted as a band was to have shorter tracks. Absolution was very much the uncompromising full vision of what every song could ever be, independently consisting of massive musical journeys. The songs here on We Came Here To Grieve were reduced down to their most effective version. We had already done the long songs with Absolution, and for this one, we were set on making a single LP, in which the songs will be of a more palatable length I guess.
‘Having the short span of time (four days) that we had was a lot more conducive to writing these shorter, more concise songs. We were able to put more thought into the flow of the songs. Not that we didn’t put any thought into the songs on Absolution, but the songs on that album start and end with silence, most tracks exist independent of one another. With these new songs, we were able to get them to free-flow into one another, with the exception of a few moments where we have intentional, abrupt transitions.‘
Continuing on this sub-conversation about the compositional change of the songs from the last album to this one, I mentioned how I noticed a bit more of a separation between the black metal and the folk elements. Those stylistic influences are still very much present here in the new album, but they’re not as fused together as I initially thought they would have been. I also brought up how the main riff to “Unsaid” has this very prominent Pantera influence. I asked Nick to shed light on all of that… And he did so in one long breath.
‘It’s hard to trace super specific influences on this album, but creatively speaking, this album is the farthest step in a different direction we’ve ever taken. It doesn’t fall outside the wheelhouse of what people could expect from us as those black metal and folk influences are still there as you bring up. The band started as my solo project way back in the day, and I continued to do most of the writing for the next couple records from then on. What is different here, is that this album is more of a reflection of all of our song writing thus and it was more of a collaborative effort; the fact that we were up in Two Harbors for only four days made it an organic process. The slight separation of these styles is a product of us wanting these shorter songs and also having that time crunch to write and record. It wasn’t inherently intentional but at the same time, it sort of was intentional as the only way to really have these two styles coexist in these tightly packaged songs was to separate them a bit, play off of the contrast.
‘I mentioned that “Pages” was one of the two songs that were fully written beforehand, and you can hear it as that song stands out from the rest in how it does fuse these two musical influences together. Naturally it is the longest song on the album, but it is the most similar sounding to what you hear on Absolution for example. I had plenty of time to work on that track. When I go back and listen to the [new] album, I can trace different parts clearly influenced by the different band members which isn’t something you can do on previous records as I did the bulk of the writing. I can listen to a song and think ‘This is a Jackson thing… This is a Nathan thing… This is an Andy thing…’ and whatnot.
‘With that being said, “Unsaid” is very much a Jackson song. We joke that that’s our emo anthem but in reality, it’s hard to deny. I don’t expect people will be weirded out by that song, but if there is any song on the album is to be the one that weirds people out the most, it would be that one. Jackson and Nathan wrote the instrumentals together on that one, actually they brought the main riff to that with us when we went up to Two Harbors. Jackson is a huge MCR head so that snuck into some of the songs. In regards to your mention of Pantera, I never would’ve thought of them myself while listening back to [“Unsaid”], but we actually were listening to a lot of Pantera on the way up to Two Harbors, so yeah, that’s actually really funny how that came together without us even realizing it.‘
Funny how that happens, eh? I also asked about some of the other musical influences, or rather what the band was listening to a lot of in the lead up to the Two Harbors trip.
‘I’m trying to remember a lot of what I was listening to around that time, I’d say it was a lot of electronic and ambient stuff mostly (Oneohtrix Point Never, Tim Hecker, Steve Roden, Blanck Mass), along with Metallica and Slayer and all that shit; I’m always going to be listening to that. Oh yeah, and Pantera (laughs). I feel like this is our most experimental album but it also has our most traditional, horns up heavy metal riffs because Jackson and I are huge classic metal heads, so that bled into this record more so than any of the ones before. This album is definitely a melting pot of influences from the various members of the band which wasn’t prominent on the albums before. That experimental ambient stuff is what really influenced the closing track on the record.‘
With Nick bringing up the closing track and how special that song especially meant to him, I had expressed how that specific song was my favorite from the album as well. I asked about how that song came to be, as I didn’t think a song like that would be one that would be easy to envision and put together in the span of four days. I felt there was a little more to it than that.
‘The core of the final song came from me overhearing Jackson, who was my roommate at the time, playing this synth part in his room and I barged in there and was like ‘WE’RE GOING TO RECORD THIS RIGHT NOW‘. So we recorded him playing that synth part with me improvising a little guitar lead over it, so yeah, I guess we did have part of that song that going into Two Harbors. Once there, what we did was we took that and blasted it through the loud PA speakers we had with us so the bleed would pick up in the drum mics as Andy drummed over it. We also had a bunch of auxiliary percussion instruments available, so we walked around the room banging a bunch of things as well. The vocals on that song were all done separately from the session in Two Harbors, I had my friends from Keep for Cheap improvise a layer of their singing over it. They both did their parts in a single take and that’s how it ended up on the final version of that song. There are like 140 separate tracks on that particular song, 11 layers of vocals I believe.’
Yeah, no wonder this song turned out to be the one that blew me away. The sheer amount of stuff that transpires during that track runtime is just overwhelming in the best of ways. What a stunning way to close out this record.
Anyways, we then transitioned to talking about random things, like the previous tour that they recently returned from with Dawn of Ouroboros, not to mention upcoming tour plans which I will keep a surprise. We also chatted about record collections, and then fell down the rabbit hole of were recommending endless albums to one another that the other hadn’t yet heard of. So I will close us out with an album that Nick had recommended to me, in which he said it’s one of the best metal albums released that nobody has ever heard of. I gave it a spin and yeah, that record was phenomenal indeed. I’ll leave that for you to discover and enjoy yourself, courtesy of Nick Stanger!