Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ascension Theory - Answers

Ascension Theory
10 – 46:04

(review by James Edward Raggi IV, from the LotFP issue The Shameless, 2007)
It takes a special kind of self-loathing to play, or enjoy, music that is nothing but a series of contradictions. Complex, yet song-oriented. Heavy, yet melodic. Aggressive, yet accessible. Metal, yet good-natured. It’s an impossible balancing act that even the best can never pull off for more than an album, maybe two.

The problem is that the people who play this kind of music, and those that listen to it as their music of choice, hate heavy metal for what it is and think this “progressive metal” style uses what is “good” about metal and discards what is “bad” about it. The result is a bunch of pencil pushers, data jockeys, and other corporate office professionals being “creative” and making “progressive” “metal” about “important issues” with a sound that contains no real anger (that would be immature) or frustration (imagine what the wife or boss would think… they’re suspicious enough as it is since a *gasp* electric guitar is involved!), and no real progression either. Because “progressive” is a genre with a set of rules, you see, not an adjective that means anything resembling progress or real creativity. And the people listening to it are a bunch of pencil pushers, data jockeys, and other corporate office professionals expressing their appreciation for fine, intelligent, upstanding music.

Basically, it’s a bunch of unhappy, repressed people involved in music that intentionally puts barriers between sound and emotion under the banners of intellect and maturity. It’s passive aggressive bullshit, all of it, and like most manifestations of passive-aggressive behavior, the best ways to deal with it are to just flash a bird and walk away, or beat the offending party to death with a nail-spiked bat.

Dream Theater has much to answer for.

And this brings us to Ascension Theory, a band that practices all of these contradictions and worships them by recording song after song with all of these problems on display. There isn’t a cliché left untapped by the three guys in the band, and every promise of heaviness is emasculated by some sort of floofery, puffery, or other some such faeriekin handicraft. They even have a song called The Way of Death, with an actual riff, and it seems like it’s going to be an actual metal song, but then some cooing woman starts singing about overpopulation.

The tragedy is that some of these songs are so filled with hooks and good choruses (Saturn’s Reign, for one) that if the band would just go for it, in whatever direction (just pick one!), they’d be successful (and I’m not using money or record sales as a definition of “success” here). They have riffs. They have sugary sweet melodies. They have instrumental prowess. What they don’t have is a cohesive vision, their own sound, or any real emotion in their music. It’s fatal to all their efforts, and this album is a few scraps of good ideas and a giant example of all of the problems inherent in a “progressive” “metal” band.

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