Who says being generic is a bad thing? Loads of people love mashed potatoes. Applebee’s makes millions off of Stockholm syndrome victims everyday. Ed Sheeran gets universal radio play despite being the musical equivalent of 160 pounds of Applebee’s mashed potatoes. Eons ago, before departing for the Undying Lands, Happy Metal Guy dropped the G-bomb a whopping seven times to describe German melodeath act Dawn of Disease. Last year’s Worship the Grave improved with Diabolus in Muzaka’s endorsement, but even then, the band never established its own identity. Fourth entry Ascension Gate pivots Dawn of Disease into a sound less rigidly vicious, but it does little to quiet critics waiting for the band to leave a lasting impression.
At first, generic isn’t even on the table — Ascension Gate barely makes it past boring. Intro “Passage” ambles through setting the table, while “Perimortal” and “Leprous Thoughts” provide a clean but stagnant introduction to the band’s remodeled sound. The beefy, not-quite-HM2 approach from Worship the Grave returns to a point, intent on Dismembering the proceedings before bathing them In Flames. Dawn of Disease adds an even stronger melodic bent by straying outside of Sweden. “Perimortal” stirs some knockoff Insomnium into a cask of In Flames melodies, while its follow-up counts on the thrumming grind of prime-time Swedeath to carry mediocre Omnium Gatherum inflections over the Finnish line. The lack of truly ear-catching melodies weigh on an album that desperately needs them, but the Germans manage to play off a subtle melodicism that works when balanced against their malicious side. “Fleshless Journey” and “The Growing Emptiness” feature that dual-lead duality in spades, capping the record with energy and execution.
No aspect of the record fails completely, but it also never finds a “wow” factor. The shift in melodic approach from Worship the Grave to Ascension Gate changes the act’s sound enough to simulate progress, but nothing really stands out. The album feels like a plateau: though the first few songs struggle to find their footing, the heart of the order holds together well despite no true highlight. Too-long finale “Mundus Inversus” drags out the record nine minutes longer than it ought to, but past that there are no major gripes. Oliver Kirchner and Lukas Kerk exhibit the same knack for grinding, death-focused riffs that you might expect from Bloodbath. But whereas Worship the Grave hoisted those riffs high and used Gothenburg gallops to break the attack, the more subdued Ascension Gate loses that balls-out aggression. The reined-in feel only works with transcendent melodies, which Dawn of Disease sadly fails to pull it off.
Fortunately, Dawn of Disease does not completely abandon their machete-wielding roots. When they blast the dual axe churn of “Akephalos” and “The Growing Emptiness” in your face, skin-shredding, and soul-erasing, the weight of Ascension Gate’s temerity fades away. Tomasz Wisniewski growls with a consistency and weight befitting a heavier band, occasionally tossing OmGath’s Jukka Pelkonen and Amon Amarth’s Johan Hegg into the mix. The production is an all-around success but could do with a few minor tweaks. The guitars somewhat contribute to the heard-it-all-before feel. Everything is dandy when ripping back three layers of flesh, but they need additional vibrancy to twist the melodies all the way through your eardrum. The drums are also in need a boost. Mathias Blässe’s blasts sound delicious but his cymbals are regularly left in the dust.
Dawn of Disease have a narrow window for success, with a low ceiling but a high floor. Fans of the genre will enjoy the record for what it is, but I doubt Ascension Gate will generate tons of crossover appeal. While I do admire Dawn of Disease’s attempt to expand their horizons — ingenuity counts for something — the result is perhaps the least sexy of all descriptors: “fine.” Every expectation met, but none defied. Perhaps Ascension Gate has a fatal flaw after all.