There aren’t many bands in San Diego that are quite like Ash Williams. In their own words, via Bandcamp, they’re a “punk band that wishes it were a black metal band.” It’s a pretty apt description, actually. A fair amount of the time they certainly sound like a punk band, with a skate-punk gallop that’s not necessarily foreign around these parts. Yet their songs also often feature some harsh, screeching vocals that wouldn’t be out of place on a vintage black metal record. There’s also a density and ferocity on new album Pulsar that’s far beyond the expected aesthetic of Southern California punk. This is music that hits harder and cuts deeper, and probably cracks a rib or two in the process.
The funny thing about Ash Williams is that on first listen, the metal elements could very well go unnoticed by the listener. They’re a punk band first and foremost, and they’re very good at it. But focus your ears a little closer on what they’re doing and it reveals something much more diverse and interesting. On “Dead Planets,” there’s an abrasive, discordant quality and a use of harmonization that, if set to a blast beat, would essentially change the song from punk to black metal with only a few minor moves. It’s a tricky, clever thing that they do here, and it makes their music all the more interesting as a result.
With each successive track on Pulsar, Ash Williams moves further away from straightforward punk. “Lycan,” for instance, is one of the darkest and most menacing tracks here. Two minutes in, the band switches gears and sounds more like Bad Religion than Wolves in the Throne Room, but those first couple of minutes are powerful, compelling and ominous. There’s a similar quality to the awesomely titled “Death Echoes,” though the heavy sheets of guitar with a punk drum beat almost puts it closer to crust punk a la Discharge or Trap Them. It’s hard to fully wrap one’s head around Ash Williams’ aesthetic, which seems to want to exist in two worlds at once. For the most part, it works pretty well, and proves that the boundaries that exist between genres are pretty thin when you get down to it.