Atmospheric, progressive, heavy – adjectives like these have reverberated through the virtual halls of Everything Is Noise to describe many of the acts we enjoy. Ashen Horde is yet another band that earns these descriptors, as well as many others. It is their consistent yet expanding approach to progressive death metal that drew us to highlight them as our current Weekly Featured Artist.
I first became aware of the Hollywood-based act in 2017 when Stevie Boiser (Inferi, Equipoise) joined the band as their vocalist, alongside founder Trevor Portz, who continues to perform guitars and clean vocals. However, Ashen Horde started to take shape years before as Portz’s solo project, as Portz describes:
‘I officially created Ashen Horde back in 2013 (10 years ago… whoa) to be an outlet for some songs I’d been writing, but that didn’t have a home. I had been playing in a more rock-oriented band while living in New York, but was still writing extreme metal on the side. I moved to Los Angeles, leaving that band behind, and decided to fully focus on metal. Not really knowing anyone in L.A., I decided to take the Grohl approach and try to make a record on my own. After an album and some EPs under the name Bite Wound (a bit more of a grindcore-type thing), I started Ashen Horde—a band rooted in black metal, but that wouldn’t be genre-specific.’
Despite its black metal roots, the multi-faceted nature of Ashen Horde evolved alongside Portz’s output. From the project’s first releases with 2013’s Ab Initio EP and 2014’s debut album, Sanguinum Vindicta, there was a clear grasp of melody and genre-pushing, while still being grounded in an extreme aesthetic. Even on their three track debut EP, we hear songs range from the blasting and bleak (“Violating Majesty”) to the more atmospheric and doomy (“Abysm”). These same elements remain in Ashen Horde’s musical DNA to this day.
However, with each subsequent release, Ashen Horde has refined and evolved their sound. This growth became especially evident on the group’s third full-length. 2019’s Fallen Cathedrals brought Boiser into the fold. His nuanced shrieks and bellows expanded the already expressive vocal range of Portz to make for an even more intense and dynamic listen. At the same time, Portz’s production chops grew ever more impressive, making for a polished but still appropriately gritty listen. Despite this evolution as new members and new skills were acquired, much of the foundation of Ashen Horde remains the same. Portz explains:
‘99% of the time, I write the music first, usually without any lyrical or theme ideas. I tend to do the bulk of the writing in my head, while jogging, walking around, [or] sitting around… I certainly do a bit of writing with guitar in hand—typically experimenting with different chords and what not—but most of the arrangements are done outside the studio. When it comes to lyrics, it’s all about telling a story. All four Ashen Horde full-lengths have been concept albums. For whatever reason, I tend to work better with long-form ideas. So once the story is in place, it’s a matter of breaking it down to fit into individual songs. Stevie contributes a lot of lyrics now, too, so I basically break the story down, and then we divide and conquer the individual songs.’
This conceptual bent continues on Ashen Horde’s most recent release, which just dropped in January through Transcending Obscurity Records. Antimony explores the unsolved poisoning death of Charles Bravo in the late 1800s, and, especially, the suspects in his murder. You can read my thoughts on the record here, but it suffices to say that a number of factors made this record my favourite of the group’s four full-lengths. Firstly, it sounds the most mature and cohesive of any of their releases. Secondly, it features a full band for the first time.
Joining Boiser and Portz are Norse’s Robin Stone on drums, and Abhoria’s Igor Panasewicz on bass, making Antimony the first Ashen Horde release to feature live drums. Lastly, the album is the first to be mixed by an external engineer – Shane Howard. His mix brings a punch and precision to the record that I really enjoy. I also have to shout out Niklas Sundin’s absolutely captivating album artwork.
Exploring Charles Bravo’s murder through its various suspects allowed the band to explore a variety of sonic textures, from grungy clean singing (“The Barrister”) to atmospheric ambiance (“The Summoning”), doomy dirges (“The Courtesan”) to devastating death metal (“The Throes of Agony”). Portz also feels that this album opens up and explores more melodic and progressive angles than ever before. But its diverse soundscapes took time to shape:
‘The concept behind this one—the aforementioned look at Charles Bravo’s murder—had been stewing in my head for a while. I actually considered it for the second album, Nine Plagues, but it just didn’t feel like the right fit. As I was working on the music for Antimony, however, I finally felt like the songs (and band members) were what I needed to do the concept justice. There was a lot of musical diversity from song to song, which I felt worked well, as that reflected the diverse personalities of the suspects that they detail.
Having Stevie in the mix was a huge part of it, too. His vocals really kicked things up a notch on Fallen Cathedrals, and I knew he’d deliver the vocal diversity the album needed. I threw in some clean sections where I felt they worked (including my best Alice in Chains-esque harmonies on “The Neophyte”). Actually, one of my favorite moments is in the verses of “The Barrister,” where I did some layered, clean harmonies, and Stevie doubled those with his harsh vocals. It sounds absolutely huge!’
Antimony has not even been in the world for a month yet. Yet, its polish and quality seem to be well-received in the community. However, Portz and his team are hardly slowing down.
‘As I write this, I’m about halfway done recording guitars for the next record, and have some rough demos for the one after that. I can’t tell you how amazing it is to see people digging what we do. It’s certainly not for everyone, but hopefully we can get it to the right ears. I’d love to get Ashen Horde to the stage at some point, but the fact that we’re spread out across states and continents makes it hard. But who knows—maybe we’ll make it a festival stage one of these days… even if it’s at noon before everyone gets there.’
Ashen Horde is…
Trevor Portz – Guitars, Clean Vocals
Stevie Boiser – Extreme Vocals
Igor Panasewicz – Bass
Robin Stone – Drums