Ancient Ascendant – Raise the Torch (Released April 21, 2017 – Candlelight Records)
Tasteful, groovy death metal from Reading, England, Ancient Ascendant bring big, dirty, meaty riffs and an awesome marriage of snarling and growling vocals to the table. Growing from their previous two releases Raise the Torch incorporates progressive elements and sees the band take a stab at some emotion.
Easing in with Reawakening; a piano dirge under uplifting ohs and a marching drum beat, Raise the Torch truly begins with Our Way. The opening picked section creates a powerful atmosphere which the vocals can enter triumphantly into. One of the best parts of the album is the dual screaming ability of vocalist Alex Butler. His voice ranges from a Chance Garnette-esque scream to a deep, earthy growl. The usage of the two styles is perfect and complement each other by being used at perfect moments. The catchiest song on the album is Scaling the Gods. The opening riff is an undeniable crowd pleaser and just straight fun. The clapping part is brilliant and the most fun I have had with an album since Kverlertak’s debut. The awesome riffs continue with Unearth and highlight the synergy between the guitars and drums. Neither dominate the mix allowing both to leave a definite impression on the first three tracks. A hat tip must be made to drummer/percussionist Dave Moulding as he leaves the drum kit for moments to grab tambourines and shake eggs to add the perfect extra element to a song. Taking a step back from the straight ahead destruction of the first couple songs Carnal slows to a mid-paced groove which allows the bass to shine through and carry the track to its close. Foreign Skies is straight up laid back; the shake egg makes an appearance and when the guitars enter it is unoppressive so the chill continues. The track does get plodding and around the mid-point of the song which is where the album started to lose its grip on me. The last three tracks still have bright moments but do not carrying through like the start of the album. Grasping the Torch has big juicy, stoner/sludge leads and a hammering blast beat and riff attack. The cow bell on The Great Curve made me smile a bit but the “guitar” scream before the solo felt misplaced as the solo failed to live up to its exclaimed introduction. To close the album To the Cold opens with the crunch of boots on snow and a far off bluesy guitar riff. Another moderately paced track the solos jump out a bit but where the riffs were engaging and attacking at the front of the album they sluff along without much power to close out the album.
Raise the Torch had a lot going for it; the crackling, rasping vocals, the giant meaty riffs and groove sensibilities but, the album tried to do too much and the back half was a fair amount of filler. The proggy and stoner/sludge chill elements were super interesting but not as well executed as they could have been and came off as B-sides. At its highs this album was a statement and I believe the lows can be used as a learning experience. Ancient Ascendant experimented with Raise the Torch to moderate success and after this foray I am sure their next effort will hit the combination of death metal and proggyness out of the park.