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Toppling the walls between us all. - 83%

hells_unicorn, June 14th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2017, Digital, Independent (Bandcamp)

Metal music could be likened to a ubiquitous form of life, it can basically thrive in just about any land once a few seeds have been planted. The germination of this art form in the Middle East has been comparably sparse when looking at the rest of the world, but there are a few noteworthy acts making waves here and there, among the more recent of them being the Dubai-based Ascendant. Comprised predominately of Syrian immigrants living in the UAE (along with one Indian and a native resident of Dubai), they stand as the only power metal act to date that has managed to field a full length album in their respective locale, which has seem a few extreme metal acts come and go but few of them gaining any significant traction. Having first made a name for themselves as an opening act for Europe back in 2013 when said purveyors of 80s AOR played the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium, it took a fair bit of time for the ball to get rolling, but in mid-2017 the independent release of this band's debut A Thousand Echoes materialized and presented a formidable array of musical competency, aggression, and flair that breaks down all the proverbial barriers that separates the Middle East from the more prolific metal community to their immediate east and west.

The sound presented here is a rather curious and subtle mixture of some elements of their own locale with a very heavy influence from a number of prominent northern European acts. The most obvious one is that of the more mid-paced, chunky yet melodic fist of steel exemplified in Tad Morose, complete with a massively compressed and guitar dominated production that compares heavily with the recent output of said band with Ronny Hemlin at the helm. There is a tad bit more of a melodically hook-based approach that brings to mind comparisons to recent Firewind and Brainstorm releases, not to mention a few trace Middle Eastern elements that might be compared to the Egyptian ones that Nile brings to their own brand of technical death metal (particularly the ambient intro to the thudding groove number "Fog Of War"), but when taking the lion's share of the musical template on display here and particularly Youmni Abou Al Zahab's gritty yet soaring vocal approach, it wouldn't be much of a stretch for someone new to this band to mistake this album for a successor to St. Demonius. Then again, Ascendant does a good job of distinguishing themselves from Tad Morose by writing a fair share of longer songs that progress in similar fashion to a drawn out Iron Maiden epic.

For the most part, this album is a fairly straight line of ground-rumbling goodness that maintains its tectonic activity in a consistent fashion from one song to the next, but there is a decent level of contrast that keep things from becoming redundant. On the more infectious, hook-driven side of things are a pair of chorus-oriented and melodic numbers in "Walls Between Us" and "Morning Light" that come the closest to mirroring the more compact character of Tad Morose's approach, the latter having some impressive vocal gymnastics and a beautiful female guest-vocal slot during the chorus that gives things a slight Gothic feel. Other comparatively short in scope bangers like "Doomsday Machine" (the song that the band featured on their breakthrough Dubai performance opening for Europe) and "False Illusion" showcase the same influences, but with a greater emphasis on punchy riffs and aggression. The album's two longer epic compositions "Land Of A Thousand Echoes" and the gargantuan 12 minute plus closer "At The End Of The World" showcase a latent progressive tendency, featuring a fair bit of keyboard work and quieter ballad segments, not to mention some rare moments where Youmni displays his crooning capabilities, which definitely conjure up comparisons to Tad Morose's seminal front man Urban Breed.

If there be any doubt as to this band's musical credibility and potential, it should be noted that not long after this album originally dropped as an independent release, the band was picked up by the prolific German label Pure Steel Records via one of their sub-labels. It's definitely a fitting outcome to be supported by the same label that has handled releases by power metal stalwarts like Zandelle, Firewind and ShadowKeep, among countless others. All the same, this is an album that came into being pretty much by the unrelenting effort of five highly skilled musicians who took a needed five years to hone their songs into something highly promising, not to mention score the needed studio releases to properly translate their ideas into something comparable to the aforementioned bands in terms of execution and quality. National borders and world politics may well divide the world until the end of time, but the universal language of heavy metal will continue to unite us. For those who like their power metal of the heavier, darker and more progressive-leaning variety, this is definitely an album to hear and a band to watch in the coming years.

This review is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Santaniello, aka Diamhea. (R.I.P.)