Ascendancy – The Amazing Ascendancy Versus Count Illuminatus
Ascendancy – The Amazing Ascendancy Versus Count Illuminatus (2014)
Reviewed by Daniel Millard
Trolling the depths of the power and prog metal underground rarely yields truly stunning finds, but just like panning for gold or buying lottery tickets, it’s the possibility of riches that ever tempts us. Last week, this album turned up in a forum somewhere, labeled as “progressive power”, and I took a blind shot. I’m no comic book fan, and the album’s cover made me think I was perhaps going to get something akin to the latest releases from Grailknights or EnfΔrce. I was very wrong on that count, as The Amazing Ascendancy… is nothing short of a very mature melodic progressive metal album with more than occasional bouts of power.
I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I’ve not heard anything as interesting or captivating from any Czech band before now. While the cover art is interesting (and certainly unique), I have little interest in the band’s concept. However, that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating Ascendancy’s delivery whatsoever. Boasting gliding keys, smart, expertly interlocking guitar work, a generally somber atmosphere, and choruses that often sound like a graceful lament, the band combines driving progressive metal with the smooth, hooky approach of bands like Vanden Plas or Illusion Suite. Several interlude and introductory tracks assist in laying the groundwork for the tone of tracks like “The Dark Side Of Philosophy” and “Subterranean Utopia”. Interestingly, tracks 5-10 are all between 30 seconds and just over 3 minutes in length. This makes for a rapidly moving midsection which boasts several short yet distinct songs that speed the work along toward its climax. I can’t emphasize how different this behavior is from many bands (especially in the prog field), and just how much it helps my enjoyment of the album.
If you ask me, while all early songs like opener “Zeroes And Ones”, the churning “A Man Without Identity”, and the plaintive “Why?” are strong, the pinnacle of the album arrives (perhaps appropriately) after “Confrontation”, with the bold song “The Dark Side Of Philosophy” – which has quickly become one of my favorite tracks this year. If this song is a smooth example of late-album poignancy, then “Battle Plans” is the energizing drive to victory, pouring on the speed, intricate instrumental work, and more optimistic lyricism. Finally, “The World Doesn’t Want To Be Saved” is a morose resignation that wraps up a fascinating album in good form.
Part of the reason that Ascendancy is such a curious beast is its genetic makeup. Singer Ivan Jakubo has a slightly rough but pleasant enough voice that goes splendidly with the band’s chosen thematic approach. The reason he stands out on the album is the very fact that he doesn’t try to. Consider – there are no screams, no harsh vocals, no particular stretch of the man’s vocal range in one direction or the other, and yet he has a very good voice, and is the ideal vocal hero for a work which is so sweeping and melodically subtle. The keyboard work here is also outstanding – featured on every song as a crucial element in both melody and feel, it’s every bit the equal of the consummate guitar playing and percussion.
The Amazing Ascendancy Versus Count Illuminatus (whew, I said it!) probably isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s one of the strongest and hauntingly memorable works I’ve tried out on a whim to date. Anyone with an interest in melodic progressive metal akin to Illusion Suite, Withem, and perhaps even DGM and Shadow Gallery ought to be looking this up immediately.
4.0 // 5