This Ascension - Sever CD Cover
Image © Tess Records, Inc.
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Album Review

© Russell W Elliot 1999

Last Updated: 19 September 1999

Best known for heavenly vocals from their lead singer Dru, the alternative rock band This Ascension has just released their fourth album on Tess Records. The label says it best: "This Ascension blends shimmering synthesizer and guitar sounds with an uncommonly complex and powerful rhythm section, layered with dynamic, heavenly vocals." Their international acclaim resulted initially from 1992 MTV-Europe's 120 Minutes airing of the stunning and surreal video that accompanied "Ill Met By Midnight" which gave their second album immediate acclaim. This Ascension's gothic-like alternative rock music achieves a worldly sound fusing lush instrumentation and soaring female vocals with moody acoustic effects.

Again laced with layer upon layer of Dru's soaring vocals, this time with even heavier guitar parts and more varying lush accompanying instrumentation, the new album is entitled Sever (Tess 13, 1999). Originally planned for completion in August 1997, the band worked for an additional year and a half on the project to create a 50-minute album with 13 melodic tracks including one remix. It is a natural, yet highly progressed, follow-up to Light and Shade (Tess 3, 1991) and Walk Softly, A Dream Lies Here (Tess 7, 1994) as well as their debut album Tears in Rain (Tess 2, 1989), which is in the process of being reissued by the label.

The album's tracks vary between soaring gothic vocal excursions and heavy, very metal, guitar riffs. At times the vocals are way up—in your face—but it is equally likely to find them buried way under a lush instrumental melody or bridge. Lyrics are generally difficult to understand strictly by listening—the vocals have been mixed more as an additional instrument and when they soar, they carry the track's melody, but the clarity we have heard from a couple of other artists is heavily subdued. The attractive and well-produced artwork accompanying the CD contains a full transcription of the lyrics for listeners that want to learn the words.

Harmonies are either provided by the other artists or by multi-tracking Dru's voice and both methods work quite well. A balance is achieved between vocal elements, samples and instrumentals, each soaring to equal effect during their respective parts in the individual tracks. Dru's climbing vocal excursions set This Ascension apart from other artists operating in or near this genre, e.g., Love Is Colder Than Death, Love Spirals Downwards, Claire Voyant, XVII Vie and Stella Maris. Only Chandeen and Single Gun Theory have an added level of vocal clarity to the lyrical portions of their music.

This Ascension's music is highly complex and worldly in texture. Like progressive music, it will likely take listeners a few sessions with the album to become familiar with the sound and sequence of the individual tracks, making individual melodies hard to recognise until hearing them several times over. Typical of this style of music and the artists that surround the Hyperium, Projekt, Tess and other alternative rock heavenly vocal labels, this type of music is highly enjoyable, but it requires exposure, education and patience to fully appreciate.

Sever, like This Ascension's earlier albums, is just so complex in its composition and arrangement that it takes a good deal of concentration to comprehend, and repeated listenings to become familiar with what's been played and what's to come next on the album. The album is almost devoid of the memorable melodies that would be found in a more accessible rock album with their hook-like choruses.

The production quality of Sever is very rich with lush instrumentals and processed or multi-tracked vocals being used to great effect along with effects to paint dramatic musical soundscapes. Unlike the garden variety rock and pop, or even a progressive band, This Ascension's complex arrangements create a whole mood within each track fusing an effective combination of effects, instrumentals and vocals. "Fatal Dawn" and "Columba Aspexit" serve as two wonderful examples of this fusion.

"Dorado" is one of two dramatic instrumentals found on the album. Although samples are used to create textures throughout the work, here effects join highly rhythmic percussion and powerful guitar and synth to create a song of large proportions and vast depth fully illustrating the individual artists' talents. Equally powerful guitar work and other instrumentals are found in the other stunning instrumental "Amalopa." In contrast, "Serpents Serenade" is very heavy, electric, metal, with thick percussion yet a serious multi-tracked vocal part with an almost rap style balances the song out.

"Here Again" is one of the most memorable tracks on the album with its highly accessible basic tune, light (for this album) instrumental and harmonious chorus. Another is the much more orchestrally instrumental "Love Lost Years" which is monumental in the lushness of its moving arrangements and features some of the most dramatic vocal passages on the album while effectively integrating the styles of the songs that precede it into a mega-concluding number. A final almost dance-oriented worldly percussive remix of "I Wish" works well, although we prefer the standard mix played several tracks earlier, and actually closes the CD.

Sever is certainly the most accomplished work from This Ascension featuring a broad range of alternative rock tunes that illustrate the band's virtuousity in every way. The second half of the album works slightly better than the first in its diversity, range and depth of the individual tracks. With repeated listenings, this complex album like the band's earlier recordings, it is sure to attract and entice many listeners of the this ever-expanding genre. With an extensive touring schedule and the massive acclaim of their live performances, This Ascension should be sought out in a concert venue. Their new album has truly been worth the wait and should be sought out as it is a highly enjoyable listen.

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