Austere is the side project of two members of Pestilential Shadows. This is their sophomore offering, a desolate mesh of tortured vocals (in the tradition of Weakling or Xasthur) and warm threads of evocative black metal. The album is depressing, but depressing like the end of a hard day's toil in the soil and sun. Study the cover image carefully and try to imagine what this would sound like if translated into the black metal medium. It would sound like To Lay Like Old Ashes.
As mentioned, the vocals here sound quite bleak, coming across more like wails of pain than the verbalization of lyrics. This might turn off some from the album, but if you can withstand this agony it will eventually merge into the grim landscape of endless fields and strife. Atmosphere and acoustics embellish the opening track "Down" before "To Fade With the Dusk" settles into its mid paced glimmering beauty and torment. "This Dreadful Emptiness" is slower, yet the walls of its riffing crash and careen like glorious gray clouds embittered towards the last light of day. The title track is yet another painful impression over a steady mid beat, strangely cutting out for acoustics and an electronic drum beat near its middle...a pleasant surprise. "Just for a Moment" is yet another surprise with its clean vocals, yet the screams will still arrive. This is my favorite track of the album. "Coma II" is over 20 minutes long and closes the album with a string of simple guitar chords and notes struck for ambiance. Essentially a post rock piece.
The tones of the album are as dense as required to keep the twisted and tormented vocals sheathed in a glorious warmth. The effect is quite unnerving, as you become unsure whether to weep for joy or mourn some loss. To Lay Like Old Ashes is as fitting and bewitching an album of its style as you are going to find lately, but I got a summery impression from the riffs. You've heard bands attempt 'summer black metal' before and wind up sounding like clowns. Perhaps Austere is one of the first successful forays into thawing a bleak winter scene, sharing its message of inevitability across all seasons.
Verdict: Win [8/10]