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Ascend - Ample.Fire.Within

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Artist: Ascend

Album: Ample.Fire.Within

Label: Southern Lord

Review date: Jun. 13, 2008

We don't really have any proof that the apocalypse, if such a thing is actually coming, will be cathartic. Yet, the layers of blackhole-stretched doom chords, trudging sludge, and all-enveloping drones the members of Sunn0))) have been wallowing in since Earth 2 wormed its way into Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson's noggins, suggest that it will be. No doubt, any of the pair's records or collaborations––including this one, which finds Anderson in the company of longtime friend, Gentry Densley (Iceburn, Eagle Twin)––would be perfect background music for a porch visit from a duo of well-meaning Jehovah's witnesses, spouting passages from Revelation. The music here, then, is the soundtrack not for the destruction itself, but the release that follows. In this way, Ascend aren't barking dire warnings but reminding us that, to paraphrase an old gospel tune, there are better things for us. Hence their name.

First track, "The Obelisk of Kolob," with its title reference to the star that Mormons believe to be closest to God's living quarters, is an engulfing ocean of drones and agitated, portending riffs. This is surely the end of time itself, captured digitally. But four minutes into the assault, complete with guitars that sound like whinnying beasts, the track is shut down, as if a larger force is saying, "not yet." Current Earth keyboard and trombone player Steve Moore, who guests on this album, opens the title track with perhaps the darkest chords ever to be gotten from an electric piano. It's like early seventies Miles, with Chick Korea having been given some very bad news. In come layers of slow, constant batterings of riffs, which are finally allowed to subside like so much cooling lava. "Divine," with Densley's tormented, lugubrious vocals, suggests some of his and Anderson's fascination with early-70s jazz fusion; however, there are no flurries of notes or tricky arpeggios here. This is more like the head of Bitches Brew as played by the Melvins, fronted by Benjamin Smoke.

If the first three tracks are the destruction and chaos that is bound to follow, the next track, "V.O.G", is the long trudge up winding cobble steps into a frightening new sunlight. It also contains the album's meatiest riffage, which all but buries the solo fretwork of guests Bubba Dupree and Kim Thayil. "Her Horse is Thunder," with Moore's organ blending seamlessly into the cauldron of chords, seems like an uprising: violent, scary but ultimately positive. Which all leaves "Dark Matter" to be a final statement of purpose. The vocals at the track's beginning are incantations, which allow for the slow build of chord blocks. The calm at the piece's center is a soundtrack for restoration after a storm, the catharsis following devastation. It's tempting to rise and salute this track's triumphant riffs. No doubt, the overwhelming power of so much of the current doom/drone/what-have-you scene seems to take itself so seriously as to invite sarcasm or invoke fear. Yet, a patient listen to this disc suggests that Ascend is the sequenced soundtrack to an Abrahamic god expelling the damned in order to aggressively make way for a more decent planet. And there's nothing more sobering than that.

By Bruce Miller

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