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TONY BENNETT: Ire Wolves’ ‘The Ascetic’ a solid, impressive debut,

Ire Wolves’ ‘The Ascetic’

Hey, someone in Duluth is trying to crush skulls!

It’s not often that heavy bands submit their material for review in this here location, and so it’s a breath of fresh air to hear something local that isn’t afraid to be aggressive, or isn’t full of banjos and hippy-dippy “good vibes.” Ire Wolves are doing something that seems to be heavily influenced by bands like Neurosis or Isis, earth-moving groups that aim to combine epic sonic vistas with brain-busting volume and heaviosity. It’s heavy metal, basically. It’s not the kinda stuff one tends to hear wafting out the door of your friendly neighborhood craft-beer emporium, to be sure.

“Enduring Molasses” is the name of the first track on the band’s debut album, “The Ascetic.” Asceticism has to do with singleminded devotion to self-discipline, and this is sonically demonstrated in the opening moments of the track. After some trippy vocal samples, the band kicks in. It’s a wall of slow (as molasses), sludgy, downtuned sound, the band members churning away as one mind. Vocalist/guitarist Mike Trepanier opens his throat and belches forth a beastly war cry, one that is in the tradition of hardcore or death-metal. This is to say: he’s not singing, and his lyrics are incomprehensible. Good stuff.

There are some great harmonized guitars in the choruses of this one, and some tasty overdubs here and there that lend the tune lots of character. After a couple of minutes of pummeling low-end riffage, the track goes into an ambient section with more vocal samples. Fans of “post-rock,” Tool or Neurosis are surely used to this kind of thing.

“Beholden to None” finds bassist/vocalist Dustin Fennessey singing cleanly and sweetly over a cinematic, reserved music bed that gets smashed by hammer-of-Thor sludge riffing and Trepanier’s growls. This then butts up against another clean-vocal section that sounds a bit like Torche. It’s a cool effect, and it’s not like all those lame metalcore bands that have a growled verse and a clean chorus — this is subtler and more organic. It’s a good effect, and it’s also reminiscent of recent Mastodon in the way that it juxtaposes throat-shredding with melody.

The band’s patience and ability to stay in one mode to explore its emotional potential is pretty impressive throughout the LP. The songs are long — seven minutes, nine minutes — but none feel like they overstay their welcome due to ever-shifting moods.

The production is also notable. Ryan Rusch of Ashland’s Weight Room turns in an effort that could be released by just about any higher-end metal label. The band deserves lots of credit for arrangements and instrumentation, of course, but the tones Rusch gets are impactful, well-balanced and pro-sounding without being overcooked. The band sounds like a heavy band, and the overdubs only serve to support things and enhance the mood.

Let’s be honest: this is probably a band that would frighten most normal folks, but those who enjoy the more extreme ends of rock music will probably find plenty here to enjoy. The band is solid all around, their music has weight and dimension, and their moods vary often enough to keep the listener engaged at all times. “The Ascetic” is a solid, impressive debut, and one of the best albums to come out of the region in 2014.