Ascension
The Dead of This World

2014 will go down as the year that Orthodox Black Metal’s literal Satan picked up and headed East out of France.  Spending most of his time in Poland, the great deceiver made an early splash in the headlines with Behemoth’s The Satanist, an album with an extra touch of earnestness for the dark lord.   Being pretty popular with the kids though, how dangerous could the devil really be?  Wasn’t this just KISS in the new millennium? It wasn’t until Kriegsmachine’s Enemy of Man came out that the atonal heart of the beast was discovered.  As the gothic choirs of that albums opener rang out, you could imagine an old monk discovering an ancient snake covered alter and terrifying statuary hidden deep in a cathedrals catacombs.   There was a palpable, writhing, sense of evil in that record.  It was a dark shadow in the underground, lurking, waiting, hating…  That poor old monk’s throat was slit before that album could get word out of the underground into the wider metal populace.

Though indirectly, the powers of darkness came were felt loud and clear in other manifestations through the madhouses and flophouses by side projects of Orthodox underachievers MasseMord.  Furia’s Nocel brought both ecstatic religious visions of transcendent beauty, and the crushing anxiety, dread, and madness of a mind not capable of dealing with the consequences of what it has experienced.  It was a fever dream lost in the labyrinths of its own subjective universe struggling to keep a grip on its urban surroundings.  Odraza’s Esperalem tKanewas an echo of tidal debauchery oozing up beneath society’s civilized veneer.  It was rage, rusty needles, prostitution, and debasement of humanity in its most real to life forms.

What could account for these separate but seemingly similar threads of darkness puling at the heart of metal?  It would take band hailing from Germany, with its deep philosophical and occult history to put it all together.  With a learned elocution similar to a Satanic Carl Sagan explaining the cosmos, Ascension musically and lyrically expounds the sounds and philosophy of Orthodox Black Metal as if projecting from Berlin’s reconstructed Pergamon Alter, affectionately known as the Throne of Satan.

There has been much anticipation for Ascension’s second full length The Dead of the World.  Their debut, 2010’s  Consolamentum, was considered by many a genre classic.  At the time there were far less bands mining this style of black metal and it was a little more ahead of its time, if still following the way pioneered by Deathspell Omega. The competition and expectations are much stiffer for an album trying to get noticed just after the majority of many publications had already made up their minds for 2014’s best albums.  The Dead of the World may not land with quite the surprising impact of the debut, but delivers on the promise of quality and atmosphere made by its  full length predecessor and the appetite wetting EP Deathless Light from earlier last year.

If there’s a criticism that can be leveled at the Orthodox Black Metal scene is that a sense of having a coherent and distinct song ifs often lost in the course of the subgenre’s meandering missives on the nature of evil and darkness.  Ascension walk this fine line through the album, and that will probably garner them both more fans and underground detractors as their musical maturity is on display throughout.  “The Silence of Abel” opens the door slowly and ominously, with a slightly off kilter rhythmic base setting the tone and atmosphere for rest of the record.  Just when you wonder where their going they hit you with a blast of black fury.  The nuances immediately come out though with noticeable lead guitar work.  The song transitions to a section making one feel that after being lead by hand down the narrow hallway you walked through to get there you’ve found yourself alone in an immense chamber of darkness.

That feeling is followed up by the aptly titled 9 minute epic “Death’s Golden Temple.” Along with somewhat atonal elements, much like an old Catholic church can grab the heart of even the most dedicated demon spawn with its architectural sense of awe, Ascension show they can put unexpected hooks in their delivery through both structural songwriting know how, detailed guitar flourishes, and subtle but important drum work in just the right places.  Another piece of what makes this song stand out, and the record, are the presence of great lurching grooves that get your head bobbing while the song circles back in on its self.   They smartly reiterate the earlier hooks rather than just tacking more riffs on for the sake of more riffs.

“Black Ember” speeds things up distinctively with swirling guitars chords intermittently winding up the tension and pitch.  The strained nature of that song leads to the satisfying opening chunk of “Unlocking Tiamat.”  At this point they do start to fall into that Orthodox trap of wandering around in the darkness without direction.  They really had the opportunity to bring the steady stomp opening this song back around a few more times to get it stuck in your head.  Unfortunately the path gets lost and the song never quite recovers.

“Deathless Light,” another high point on the album opens with a gripping, emotional section of varied pace blasting.  Great string bends and tempo shifts show they can draw you in a variety of ways.  It may take a few extra turns than it needs to, but this is a great epic song carried over from the EP that shows the band exercising all their strengths.

“The Dark Tomb Shines” may be the catchiest number on hand.  After a disorienting opening, the band gets back to slamming home a simple chug to get your head moving again.  It also shows off some surprisingly tasteful guitar leads.  Throughout the band shows that besides being brooding that they can rock and thrash when they want to.  The catchy elements here show this style still has some places left to explore and a possibility of flirting with wider appeal without giving up its soul.

Closing with the 10 minute “Mortui Mundi,” Ascension bring all their power, their ability to twist and turn,  along with the sense for a good hook, and package it into a memorable epic of an album closer.  A martial snare beat half way through adds a regal air to experience of the album before it.  And what’s that?  A totally wailing lead guitar solo?  Sweet!

Overall, while having some of the faults of the genre, the album is reaching for what’s possible while still operating within it.  The assumption could be made this will a somewhat divisive release, as some may find the tastier elements a little too cloying but others will find that’s exactly what makes it accessible to the palate. An album like this could see the Orthodox subgenre pushing to new heights.  After the strength of releases put out this year though, it’s easy to make the prediction that next year sees it jumping the shark as a sea full of less adept imitators flood the market with more mediocre material.  Time will tell if Ascension can stay ahead of the game in the future, but The Dead of This World is an extremely solid, at times absolutely fantastic release sneaking in at the end of the last year.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Dan Wrathburn
February 12th, 2015

Comments

  1. Commented by: thatguy

    On par with Merrimack last lap.


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