Ascendia 'The Lion and the Jester' Review

The Symphonic Metal Hierarchy had better take a long look over their shoulders as there is a new group on the horizon, and if Ascendia’s debut is a foundation of the bands future, the big guns had better watch out. The band hail from Canada, but from this offering you could never tell, the sound is truly European, and will delight all purists of the genre. The sound is huge on this album, the depth is wonderful, the highs and lows you would expect, with a generous dose of heavy-assed riffs and some truly stunning guitars.

As the opener “At The End Of It All” kicks off, we have some very atmospheric music, with wails and tribal drumming, that when I closed my eyes took me on a journey. Picture the Nevada desert, lost and alone, darkness setting in, wolf howls, and native American chanting in the distance. With fear running through your veins, you take a little peyote to calm you and BANG! The journey begins! It bursts into some serious riffage and by God, what a voice Nick Sakal has, very like Geoff Tate of Queensrÿche, when they were at the top of their game. They have chosen the perfect song to set the bar for this album. You get Malmsteen-esque guitars, 5FDP growls, and the keyboards of the best Symphonic bands out there.

“Remember Me” continues on in the ‘Operation:Mindcrime’ vein, but the vocals change here, and the range is laid out before us in all its glory. This man has one hell of a set of pipes, which lends amazingly well to the Dream Theatre tempo changes we see on this song. “Moonchild” starts with a keyboard barrage, the song building, layer upon layer, as only Symphonic metal can. The talent on display here is phenomenal. The song is crafted so beautifully, like a painter adding brush stroke after brush stroke until you see the end masterpiece. “Demon Eyes” gets very doom-laden from the off, and shows that the band do not want to just copy everyone else but want to mix it up and lay their own path to the top. The vocals here reminded me of a Rainbow era Graham Bonnet, the depth, the non-rock based history. Just a brilliant vocalist putting his own spin on how a song should sound.

On “Last Forever” we get our first ballad, of sorts. A lovely piano intro with Nick penetrating your ears. No wonder this band is getting rave reviews for their live shows. If these songs are anything to go by, the compositions must been seen live. The sounds are so massive I cannot imagine them on a small stage. This demands a huge show to accompany the size, depth and outright quality Ascendia bring to the table. “No More Tales To Tell” sounds like one of Iron Maiden’s long running epics, with keyboards thrown in for good measure. The sheer range of differing genres that are captured inside this band’s ideas are astounding, and a lesser band would not have carried this off. I am still in shock that this is a debut offering as “Faded Away” passes and leads on to “My Last Song”. A song that shifts gear once more, a traditional, 80’s rocker, intro that has Rainbow, UFO and MSG written all over it, before we get that seismic chord change to a brutal blast of guitars and drums.

As the piano plays us into “The Song That You Deserve” I have a little niggle at the back of my head… have I heard this before? As the female vocals come in, yes I have and I am a bit embarrassed to confirm it in writing but the song went a bit Disney for me, so I will let it go, let it go, let it go( sorry I couldn’t resist that). I may be a bit harsh on this as it is a solid song, and it kicks some serious ass as it lifts, sways and reaches new heights but for me it was the weakest track on the whole album, and this one cost them a 5/5 rating from me. As if to prove me wrong, and slap my stupid face, the title track kicks in, and I hold my head in shame. This is an 8 minute epic, and a masterful piece of Symphonic genius, the guilt is oozing out me now for the earlier comments, as music just does not get better than this. It takes us on a journey that you just get lost in, and the production alone on this track is mesmerizing.

We finish on the bonus track of “Starlit Eyes”, a live favourite, it seems, and I can see why, as this is an acoustic ballad which has some fantastic lyrics, and for me should be a single. It crosses the genre to a more mainstream audience, and is crying out for radio play and some movie soundtracks. It is that good a song, and I would go as far to say this could capture a huge following on its own and introduce the band to a whole new level of fans.

So there we have it, some new guys in town with enough of an arsenal to storm the heights of the Symphonic Metal mountain, and lay claim to the crown of all that is holy and just. A fantastic band, a stunning debut and a classic album that should be slotted in between your Nightwish, Dream Theatre and Epica CDs. Do not be surprised if it ends up being played more than your OLD favourites.

Review By Ritchie Birnie

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