Ascension – Under Ether (2018) REVIEW

Having firmed their concept and set their sound alight on their 2014 sophomore full-length, the next grand step for German black/death metal band Ascension stretches beyond the sluggish dissonance of ‘The Dead of the World’ and generally reigns in some of the Deathspell Omega/Aosoth style that’d crept too deeply into their blasphemic sound. ‘Under Ether’ still breathes the old fire of Ascension, though, with the slow-burning riffs of their earlier material in tact. This time they’ve laced them with increased death metal influences and a more restfully blasphemic tone. There is a distinctly ethereal shroud over the otherwise volcanic occult black metal of Ascension‘s third full-length; The lead guitars spill a dream-like sheen that escapes atmospheric black metal comparison but offers similar dysphoria as you’d experience listening to any recent Inquisition record.

‘Under Ether’ is pensive and almost too anesthetized to be demanding, instead offering eight movements set to the impossibly frozen void of space. Ascension create tension-and-release throughout this record with memorable and hook-laiden riffing that occult black/death metal is quickly becoming known for. They aren’t so much pulling in rock structures as they are rethinking the contributions of atmospheric death metal and expanding upon them with a Svartidauði-like fission not far from what groups like Sheidim and Chaos Invocation have been working towards, albeit from different directions. For whatever reason Ascension‘s guitar work sets them apart as more ‘musical’ or just generally set slightly above their contemporaries by confident and cleverly paced guitar work that only improves with each release.

I wasn’t sure that Ascension could top their ‘Deathless Light’ EP for me, I think that record hit me at a time when I was particularly ready to absorb an evolved black/death variant at the time, perhaps primed by Schammasch‘s record from the same year. In hindsight ‘Under Ether’ is a positive step away from the murk and ‘disorder for the sake of disorder’ ethos that has captivated the attention deficit of black metal fans long enough, and it feels modern because it doesn’t mire itself in the unpredictable so much as the quality of songwriting. These are songs I want to revisit, circularly dynamic visions that vary and stand alone strongly. The pull away from kinematics and style towards illustration and effective composition leaves a new mark of maturity upon Ascension‘s already impressive discography.

‘Under Ether’ checks the important boxes for higher extreme metal art with brilliant artistic design, weighty and modernist tones with orthodox themes underpinned, vibrant and foreboding production, and well-written movements. It is futurist enough to defy expectations yet tonally appropriate to sit snugly in the occult black/death landscape as a leader and compatriot. I am still captivated by several tracks even after several weeks of listening and particularly “Ecclesia” when paired with “Pulsating Nought”. The clinchers for re-listening are definitely “Ever Staring Eyes” and guitar work in the final few minutes of “Thalassophobia”. Near the top of the best of March 2018 and, without discounting their progression over the years, easily my favorite Ascension release so far.

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Artist Ascension
Type Album
Released March 30, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on WTC Productions Bandcamp! Follow Ascension on Facebook
Genres

Post-eruptive delirium. 4.25/5.0

 

 

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