A couple of surprises soon after I’d jumped into this one. The first being that, although, the band officially hail from England they possess a progressive metal sound that instead harkens to the States and mainland Europe, in this listeners’ opinion. There’s strong elements of Lacuna Coil in the soaring vocals, to Nevermore and groove metal riffing and up into stratospheric effects-laden ambiance of prog everywhere.
I must say, upon seeing a name such as Ascending Dawn I was under the impression that I’d be copping a by-the-numbers power metal or melodeath act. Funny how titles can influence preconceptions before you’ve even pressed play.
‘Here we go’, I thought as the brief dirge-like ringing of guitarist/drummer Mark Weatherley warbled in. Well, I’m happy to say that I was immediately caught off-guard from this preconceived write-off.
Smashing straight into a pacy shifting riff that brings Jeff Loomis to mind, the band pronounce their arrival. The clean vocals of opener “All in Now” showcase the aforementioned Cristina Scabbia influence, who tows this line without also forsaking any of her own originality. Sure, it is soaring and near-operatic in scale but female singer Marlain Angelides also knows how to glide with ease across thumping riffs, as the first verse demonstrates.
Chords open up like curtains and we are treated to an even bolder reach, angelic with harmonised backing vocals. This grandiosity is later tempered with some thrashy start/stop riffing that isn’t quite djent but definitely shows flair for flitting around time signatures. It’s an interesting mix that deviated from the usual open power chord bludgeoning that a lot of female-fronted metal bands employ. A staccato muted section leads quickly into a mosh-worthy breakdown, a brief repose then soaring back up into that chorus.
I can already tell that if I give these guys repeated listens, I’ll have both a sore neck and pop-hook earworms in my neurons for days. As the neuroscience geeks say – neurons that fire together, wire together. This definitely is not the last time this aesthetic is laid upon the ears.
“Miscommunication” rings in with a sharp arpeggio and a tone that would sit nicely alongside thrashy proggers such as Benea Reach. As the intro softens, the subtle interplay between bassist Jennifer Fletcher and Mark playfully build themselves back up towards those epic harmonies, that powerful chorus and a smooth break back into the metal groove.
Expecting yet another whipping intro, I was ready. “Cannonball” chose instead to softly crawl in with an almost organ-like intro, drums sidling in slowly behind as the volume picks up. The rhythm section nail back into their waltzing attack, guitarists Mark and Owen Rees providing a consistent contrast of thick de-tuned rhythm and exploratory, echoing leads. Alongside the lilting vocals, this gives the band an almost cavernous feel, giving the power-chord heavy chorus more definition. The vocals here are where we find an almost grungy tone, but not without the soaring highs.
I’ll admit, althought the formula works, this is where my attention began to wane. A solid equation indeed, but I can only stare at the same thing on the chalkboard for so long. Maybe that’s just me.
In any case, “Integral” shakes me back, piquing my interest once more with classic melodeath leads and that off-kilter, turn-on-a-dime rhythmic romp. The band do a great job of working in a hard rock savvy feel during these clanging riffs, also throwing in some dissonant parts to keep it fresh. We’re treated to our first (and only, if I’m not mistaken) guitar solo of the album, a slashy little ripper that has teeth but doesn’t outstay its’ welcome. It’s my opinion the band could utilize these little snippets more in their sound to differentiate the overall tone, which has become anthemic but a little more-of-the-same, too.
As the Dark Tranquillity friendly electronic outro gives way to the twisting semi-dissonance of “Opposites”, we have another track which has some standout moments; a hugely power-chord-heavy chorus but also a quiet repose which sees vocals ascending and descending. “Simplify” gives off the impression of being similarly curious, with a tight military snare trill over Egyptian leads. Unfortunately, this promise is then repealed by the now to-be-expected formula of quietness leading to anthemic chorus. A tight, crushing breakdown shows some semblance of teeth but is drawn back into the drawn-out echo of the earlier tracks.
“Inside the Silence” uses a nice interplay between tight muting aside a more laid back drum and bass trundle. The now-mandatory soaring chorus comes back into view, still catchy as hell, and leaps out of the way of that interesting intro riff. However, once again, the reverberating halls of the verses leave the head wanting to bob a bit harder. A very cool stepwise riff also tapers off earlier than expected, and suddenly the album is starting to now feel a bit like the ok-go-no-wait of trying to fight through whiskey dick. Or so I’ve heard, from a friend.
“Opaque”, a brief instrumental, gives the band time to showcase their trade, which is promoted with a jazzy bassline and some dissonant guitar chords. Some Middle Eastern tinkling underneath that ever-reliable big drum sound. A demonstration of how every song on this album could be differentiated.
“Indiscrection” finally pushes the band forward at the eleventh hour. Bringing back more of that slightly dissonant taste, the riffs and vocals tighten right up. This is the most constrained and within-sync “Angelides” stays with the rest on the album, and damn it works well. The tempo doesn’t back down for the most part, keeping mid-to-fast pace and ringing out. I found my foot tapping quite loudly over headphones for this one, and can imagine it as a song to bring the ruckus.
In summary, “Coalesce” is an album which shows a whole range of promise. I’m not sure if the band have entirely decided on whether to bring in more dynamic elements of their steady formula into the fold, but they should. Every song is rock solid, but by the end I’ve spent a little too long in that gorgeous open caverns. It’s not by-the-numbers, but it’s also a slog to finish. I have huge hopes for these guys, however, as I really think they’re onto something with huge potential and a unique slant on female fronted progressive metal.