Reverence – The Asthenic Ascension Review

Reverence // The Asthenic Ascension
Rating: 4.5/5.0 — Black metal taken to the outer limits
Label: Candlelight Records
Websites: |
Release Dates: EU: Out now! | US: 09.11.2012

Reverence are a French black metal band; founded in 1998, they have gradually adopted more experimental and avant-garde qualities into their sound over the years. The Asthenic Ascension is their fourth full-length album, along with several other demos and splits.

The title reveals a lot about what Reverence are attempting to do, conceptually, with this record. The title essentially means “the rise of the weak,” as asthenic refers to someone who is physically frail or slightly built, with a thin trunk and long limbs. Pseudo-scientifically, having such a build has been associated with schizoid personality traits as well. Throughout The Asthenic Ascension, Reverence explores ideas of weakness and strength, delicacy and power– and perhaps an element of schizophrenic composition as well.

The idea of power is most present in the industrial-inspired battering ram of the drum patterns. The drumming is a highlight for me for sure, possessing incredibly dignified formality, a kind of bombastic, pomp-and-circumstance feel that gives the album a slightly military bearing. Reverence combine this aspect with a merciless, mechanical quality, and this is where the industrial influence can be felt most strongly on the record. Add a little bit of jazz into the mix – not so much into the sound but the improvisational unpredictability of the patterns – and you have a rhythm section that is truly exciting, blowing typical black metal blast-beats out of the water.

Where Reverence begins to explore the opposite concept – weakness – in The Asthenic Ascension is through album’s dense, layered textures. This is where the record is at its most tactile, as well. The guitars are incredibly lush, forgoing the raw buzzing of most black metal while losing none of the aggression. The subtle variations in tone layer on top of each other to create complex sonic structures that are as sophisticated as they are strangely easy to listen to and penetrate. The best way I can describe this dichotomy is that the texture is reminiscent of nothing so much as putting your hand into a spider’s web – so easy to destroy and stronger that steel all at once.

In terms of influences, it’s easy enough to compare this record to fellow French experimenters Peste Noir, Deathspell Omega and, perhaps most strongly,Blut Aus Nord. What sets Reverence apart from their peers is their tendency to work with symphonic elements, creating moments of easily recognizable beauty amid the chaos and peace within claustrophobia. This aspect of the sound manifests most strongly in I. Luciferia’s vocal performance, which vacillates between harsh and clean singing and is often layered on top of itself to create a choral effect. The vocals have an operatic quality to them that is never overdone, but gives the record just enough of a theatrical flourish to soften the more discordant elements. It is an inspired touch that never detracts from the abrasiveness or complexity, but, rather, deepens them.

The Asthenic Ascension swelters and sweats, heaving its bulk forward in a series of muscular undulations like a massive serpent squeezing the life out of its prey. Listening to Reverence, you feel very much like the sound has you in its clutches, and is not particularly inclined to be merciful. From shimmering swaths of delicacy in “The Descent” to the deadly intensity of “Cold Room,” The Asthenic Ascension always leaves the listener raw and wrung out. Rarely have I left the experience of listening to a record feeling beaten – sore, somehow fragile, aching and alive. A majestic, disturbing album, this is another excellent example of what black metal, when pushed to the edges of itself, is capable of.

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