When it comes to orthodox Swedish-style black metal (which I’ll call “orthodox black metal” for the rest of the review), explaining the general aesthetic is essentially pointless. I can call an album cold, frostbitten, grim, and evil until I turn blue in the face from hypothermia, but that won’t answer the one question readers have when they come to reviews: is this worth listening to? Chances are you’ve already got your stance on the orthodox black metal sound figured out, and whatever I write here won’t change that. If you’re still interested after learning the genre of Germany’s Ascension, the obvious question is whether or not the songs on their sophomore full length The Dead of the World are worth your time over the myriad other bands playing this style.
“The Silence of Abel” begins the proceedings in an appropriately sinister sounding fashion, with some vicious mid-tempo riffing similar to Valkyrja and Dark Fortress with a tiny pinch of Ulcerate for good measure. It’s a slow burn that picks up nicely about three minutes in, but due to its relative weakness in the context of the record, it isn’t a great choice for an opener. Things improve with “Death’s Golden Temple,” which follows the Lawless Darkness blueprint successfully with some lighting quick tremolo licks and updated Celtic Frost riffs that nicely complement each other, and an interesting midsection riff taken out of Blasphemer’s Grand Declaration of War playbook. Other highlights “Deathless Light,” “The Dark Tomb Shines,” and “Mortui Mundi” are bizarrely tucked away at the back of the album and represent everything Ascension does right with this style: heavy riffs, intense blasts, memorable and melodic leads, and a song structure that allows for all of this to hit with maximum impact.
While the seven songs that comprise The Dead of the World never dip below “good,” Ascension are vying for attention in a crowded genre and they need either a special X-factor or near-classic material to really stand out, and neither of these attributes are present here. Every unnamed member (getting spooky up in here!) turns in a solid and professional performance: guitars and bass are tight, drums are intense when they need to be, and the vocals are sufficiently evil and tortured sounding. If you like this style of music, you’ve heard it done both better (Watain) and worse (Valkyrja) already. Interestingly, Ascension actually excels at writing longer songs instead of shorter ones: while they’re still good, “Black Ember,” “The Silence of Abe,l” and “Unlocking Tiamat” are the three weakest songs here, as well as the three shortest. While there isn’t a mind-blowing difference in quality or major stylistic change, the better riffs and arrangements went into the longer songs, and it definitely shows.
Adding to The Dead of the World’s list of things you’ve definitely heard before are the album’s production values. Recorded and engineered by Michael Zech and mastered by Dark Fortress and Triptykon’s V. Santura, the order of the day is a well-rounded and clear sound similar to (you guessed it) Watain, Dark Fortress, Valkyrja, and, to a lesser degree, Triptykon. The Santura guitar sound serves the band well here, adding heft to the slower segments and clarity to the leads, while still leaving some room for the bass to shine through, which it does admirably. Again, if you like this style of black metal, you’ll feel right at home with the production as well.
Ascension set out to make an enjoyable orthodox black metal album and they succeeded. It’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from this genre, but that definitely doesn’t make it bad or not worth checking out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make required listening either. While I can’t see anyone scrambling to make this an eleventh hour addition to their best of 2014 lists, it can definitely find a comfortable home in any Swedish-style black metal collection, and Ascension‘s intended audience will almost certainly enjoy it. Sometimes it’s nice to expect the expected and be rewarded with quality, and this is one of those times.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist (NA) | World Terror Committee (Rest of World)
Release Date: Out Worldwide 12.24.2014