Rise to the Sky – Per Aspera Ad Astra Review

Since founding Rise to the Sky in 2019, Sergio G. has written and released two EPs and four full-length albums of highly atmospheric death-doom metal. Six releases in two years would be impressive for any band, really, but the fact that he does it all largely on his own is another twist to the story, one that has had me, on at least one occasion, wondering if everything is going okay in his life. Apparently he’s doing alright, so I can only assume he really likes what he does. Certainly I’ve enjoyed his output thus far, but even I had to admit that Let Me Drown With You was showing signs of slowing down. Now, less than half a year later, Rise to the Sky rises once more with Per Aspera Ad Astra, an album on a mission to make its listeners mourn.

If you’ve listened to any Rise to the Sky releases since Moonlight, you already know what to expect here – crushing, dramatic riffs, funeral doom vocal stylings, weeping guitar leads, and heavy use of organs for atmosphere. “Life in Suspense” opens the album with a classic Rise to the Sky tune. The guitar leads remind of Swallow the Sun, the keys are a bit more subtle this time around, and the whole has a wistful, brooding vibe that sets the album off on a somber note. One thing that stands out – or, rather, doesn’t stand out – is that the rhythm guitars are fairly low in the mix, paving way for the vocals and leads to fight for center stage. This allows songs like the title track to really explore the atmospheric and symphonic side to the band; “Per Aspera Ad Astra” features a trilling lead on the chorus, and an expansive, almost cinematic intro, complete with brass instruments and an acoustic guitar. These atmospheric elements are laid on thick enough that the quieter rhythm guitars somehow does not translate to an album that lacks heaviness, which is important for what Per Aspera Ad Astra is aiming for here.

One of the best parts of Rise to the Sky’s sound has always been the confident blend of styles. Sergio’s vocal style hovers just “above” funeral doom in its slow annunciations, while his lead guitar work is evocative of melodeath and doom metal circles, and his riffs toe the line between standard doom and doom-death metal. “The Loss of Hope” takes on a gloomy, despairing tone, blending these styles together in one of the best examples on the album. Later, “Only Our Past Remains” furthers the argument that Rise to the Sky could be just as successful as an act of pure doom: melancholy, slow, and patient in really rewarding ways. Per Aspera Ad Astra absolutely bleeds melancholy. Even when you’re not actively listening to it, its atmosphere is strong enough to cast a funereal pall on the day you’re having.

If there’s one drawback to releasing so many albums in a short period of time, it’s that change from release to release takes place slowly. Fortunately, Per Aspera Ad Astra makes some promising strides. “Bleeding Heart” sees the return of Sergio’s clean singing and uses his keyboards in awesome fashion to create a hopeful, mourning, and at times eerie atmosphere. There is more use of acoustic guitar on this release, in songs like the lovely “Deep Lament” and the aforementioned title track. There is even a covered traditional Russian folk song in the instrumental “Horse.” I’m grateful for these variations in the vocal department especially; Sergio’s growls are reminiscent of funeral doom styles largely because there isn’t much variation to them. His growls are breathy and drawn out, with an apparent focus on sounding good over the kind of variety and depth that gives this kind of metal emotional resonance. Over the course of fifty minutes, they do lose their impact. Fortunately, the music behind them is rarely anything less than impressively mournful, offering emotional catharses in spades.

Per Aspera Ad Astra is classic Rise to the Sky delivering exactly what it’s so good at delivering: affecting, atmospheric, beautiful death-doom metal. Unsurprisingly, it is reminiscent of past releases but takes good steps towards creating its own identity and advancing the Rise to the Sky formula in a good direction. This is thick, heavy, weepy metal perfect for those autumn days we’ll soon be experiencing. I look forward to revisiting it when they arrive.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: GS Productions
Websites: risetotheskyband.com | risetothesky.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/RisetotheSkyBand
Releases Worldwide: September 3rd, 2021

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