The Ember, The Ash: “People Were Expecting a Depressive Black Metal Record…and They Got Breakdowns!”

Maybe the metal scene is finally ready for what The Ember, The Ash are doing on their new album Fixation. For the past decade or so, announcing that you were merging black metal and metalcore would likely elicit cries of anger from fans of both scenes, each firmly set in their own very different ways. And yet, given how much metal’s most popular bands are blurring genre lines, it feels as though audiences are hungry for this kind of crossbreeding — black metal’s darkness with a kinetic approach, metalcore’s momentum with some believable evil behind it. This is what The Ember, The Ash do — and do incredibly well.

“I really had no idea what the reaction would be like to this record, because it’s kind of all over the place,” admits the band’s sole member 鬼 (Japanese for ‘demon’ or ‘specter’). “It really doesn’t fit into, like, a genre mold. It kind of morphs through a few different things as it progresses. So I thought, We’ll see what happens!”

What Fixation lacks in genre specifics, it makes up for in captivating music. Unpredictably hard-hitting but dramatically sweeping, the record is stream-of-consciousness view into the mind of a modern metal fan. One minute, you’re getting helpings of Slipknot and Code Orange; the next it’s Emperor, Naglfar, and Sigh; then blindsiding doses of Polyphia and Igorrr kick in. The end product is hard to turn off, and seems to herald a new sound that could believably sweep across metal as a whole — if it doesn’t alienate everybody along the way.

“The only negative reactions I got were from people who were expecting an atmospheric black metal record, or a depressive black metal record…and they got breakdowns!” says 鬼 with a chuckle. “It’s fine, everything I do is always going to be different. I hope I can keep whatever fanbase I have on their toes a bit, not expecting the same thing every time. Because I won’t do the same thing every time.”

Did you go into the record with that approach in mind — I want to challenge people — or did it just come out this way?

A little bit of both — I always try not make all of the music that I write to be somewhat varied. But the main reason that this happened was, the record was written over kind of a long period of time. Generally, I try to keep my writing sessions pretty short — six months or a year to write a record. So I’m kind of in a similar headspace for all of it. But this one was written and rerecorded three times, because I wasn’t happy with it the first time. My influences kept changing, and so the way the music came out just kind of became different over the two years that it was being written.

Your previous album, Consciousness Torn From The Void, was a straight-up atmospheric black metal record — and this one is definitely not. Why did you start incorporating these kinetic elements into the music?

I grew up in this genre. As a kid, age 15 until 21, I was playing in a metalcore band. That was my goal in life: to tour in this metalcore band. So growing up, it was a really prominent genre in my wide spectrum of things I listen to. And I felt like I kind of abandoned that a little bit, because I have a few projects that I do, and none of them incorporated those things, and I just had this urge to bring that back, and do this super heavy project. With The Ember, The Ash’s first record, that was inspired by super bleak stuff like Xasthur and depressive black metal. It was only going to be a one-off little thing — I wasn’t planning on taking that project any further, it was just going to be this one little record that I was inspired to do one month.

So when I started writing some kind of heavier stuff for fun, I thought, I think I’m going to take this project and kind of turn it into this. I don’t want to further this project in the same direction it was going, I just kind of want turn it into this new thing. I kept some of the elements — there’s actually a rerecording on this record of one of those old tracks, so that’s kind of the transitional thing. You can see elements from the first record on here. But I do feel bad that I totally flipped the switch on some of the fans. The only negative reactions I’ve gotten are from some of those people, the black metal fans.

Why not just start a new band, to keep the brand pure, as it were?

I think because I still wanted to keep elements from that first record. I still wanted to blend that breakdown stuff that I did back in the day with this raw black metal feel. And this record has that raw production that emulates the black metal stuff. There’s an almost full black metal song on here. And as you get toward the end of the record, those elements start coming back. I mean I thought about making it a brand new project, but I thought, At the end of the day, how many different projects did I want to balance here?

It’s like having too many IDs in your wallet as a con artist. What name am I going by today?

It’s tough, because I just want to write whatever I want, and usually that’s really all over the place. I listen to everything. So with all of my projects, it’s hard to hone in on one sound. Even with the three that I have, they all go all over the place.

It feels like the energy and attitude really change on this one, too. What are the themes, lyrically and musically, that are being explored here?

It’s written around mental illness. Intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation are the overarching theme of everything. And that started from witnessing a loved one go through those things, and essentially how it was affecting me. So the perspective of the record was kind of like me trying to figure out what that person might have been going through. Because it’s not something that I’ve gone through or that I necessarily understand. There’s other stuff in here; I put a lot of my own feelings and dark thoughts in here as well. There’s not a narrative, where you chronologically go through the record, but each track tackles a segment of mental illness. 

Did that ever get too much? Did you ever have to step back and say, I’m in too deep, it’s affecting me emotionally?

I don’t think so, because I’m generally not really good at expressing myself with words. I tried to be there for this person, and help the best I could, but you start to realize that if you’re not a professional, you’ll feel unequipped for those things, because you can’t get inside that person’s head. The only way I’ve ever really known how to express things was writing about them. It was kind of a change, writing lyrical content, because I don’t do that very frequently. But this time, I thought, Well, I do have something to say, and I do want to talk about this, and I think it’s going to be cathartic for me. It never really felt too much, because a lot of it was written as this person was getting better. It had a reflective perspective.

How much of the record was written or recorded during the pandemic?

It was composed entirely before, but I think I rerecorded it twice during quarantine. I was working on so much music that I started getting better at production, and how I wanted to present these songs. And the first time I recorded it, it was rough. A lot of the people I sent it to were like, ‘I don’t really like this.’ And listening back, I thought, …yeah, okay. The production really suffered here. I’ve got to rerecord this. I think I did that twice during the pandemic. It definitely turned out the way I wanted it to now.

What’s it like recording an album three times, getting ready to release it, and thinking, Man, this might alienate EVERYONE?

That was definitely my biggest fear — who is this for? Who are the listeners of this music? Is it just me? Am I the only guy who’s going to like this? I already think that all the time of every type of music that I make. Is this going to translate to the masses? So of course I thought that about this. But I had no solution to it — I just had to put it out and see what happens. I don’t know how I’m going to promote this. I don’t know who’s going to like this.

The Ember, The Ash’s Fixation comes out May 14th via Prosthetic Records, and is available for preorder.

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Words by Chris Krovatin