Ascension – Far Beyond the Stars

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It’s been an interesting rise to fame by Scottish power-metallers, Ascension. Honed by continual touring and recording (most notably a UK tour with Axenstar at the end of 2011), the band retreated to Sonic Train Studios in Sweden with Grammy-nominated producer Andy La Rocque to record their debut full-length album, Far Beyond the Stars; out in Japan on March 21st and worldwide release TBA on Spiritual Beast/Universal Music. Was it worth the wait? Oh, you bet.

Far Beyond the Stars shows that perfectly-formed metal can shine through on a debut record to compete with some of the genre’s leading lights who’ve been at it for years. With an exciting, explosive and fresh perspective on a genre that arguably hasn’t moved on for a decade, the time is ripe for an enthusiastic young band to take it by the scruff of the neck, throw it around and demonstrate that there’s life in the old dog yet. Imagine an early DragonForce infused with Bruce Dickinson’s vocal power, Stratovarius with renewed juvenility and HammerFall without the bombast. A début album filled with the kind of songwriting and lyricism that you’d expect from rock’n’roll stalwarts is humbly thrust forward with the sort of power that demands you sit up and take notice. Classy guitar work from Stuart Docherty and Fraser Edwards exhibits the kind of dual-shredding silliness that Sam Totman and Herman Li manage to pull off in DragonForce, but played with such confidence and craft. Songs have been lovingly curated until they’re almost perfect in scope, full of delicious hooks and sweet melodies that reel you in to listen again and again.

Vocalist Richard Carnie is a powerful driving force fronting the band, laying down an impressive vocal range that bolsters the impressive spectrum of themes that the intelligent lyrics portray. On galloping rockers like album opener ‘Somewhere Back in Time’, Ricki’s voice is infused with thunder and brimstone, plumbing high and low notes with ease and fortifying a track that is less a ‘song’ and more a charging monster. ‘Heavenly’ is truly superb from beginning to end, linking up a ridiculously catchy chorus with a barrage of pounding rhythm guitars, melodic shredding and powerfully symphonic solos. Even when the pace wanders into slower territories, as it does on ‘The Silver Tide’, the quality never drops. There’s genuine emotion being poured out, too, so in between all the songs about fantasy and other-worldliness, there’s striking passion while simultaneously blasting out a barrage some of the most thunderous melodic metal that’s as catchy as it is powerful: We can’t stop here, this is earworm country.

The two real treats are the instrumental rocker ‘Orb of the Moons’ (featuring guest keyboards from Elias Holmlid of Dragonland) and the ten-minute progressive epic, ‘The Avatar’, both of which show off some true writing class and will sound absolutely phenomenal in a live show setting. Here, the combination of solid writing, enthusiasm, spirit and ability align to truly make Far Beyond the Stars interstellar; and it’s wonderful to be along for the ride. Wrapping it all up is that wonderful album cover art that cocoons a wonderfully crafted debut album into a killer package.

There’s some intense talent on show here, and the only qualifier to a superb debut album is that, at least on the basis of what’s to be heard on Far Beyond the Stars, one can only expect even more from the band in the future. More power (metal) to them, I say.

9/10

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