We’ve known there was something special about Amiensus ever since my co-writer Andy Synn brought the band to our attention through his vivid review of their 2013 debut album Restoration. In the years since then, the band have released a small number of individual songs that proved to be equally impressive, but I still don’t think even that track record of excellent releases could have fully prepared us for the band’s new album Ascension — which will be released tomorrow. In a word, it’s astonishing.
Attempting to capture the tremendously multi-hued character of the music in mere words is probably a fruitless goal. It’s true of most music, but undeniable in the case of this album, that there is no substitute for experiencing it yourself. It’s ambitious, it takes risks, it lays bare the emotional intensity of the musicians and vocalists, and it vividly reflects the creativity of their songwriting ideas. They should all be immensely proud of what they’ve accomplished.
Ascension is a folk-tinged, genre-crossing amalgam of black metal, melodic death metal, and progressive rock. It’s sweepingly atmospheric and it’s warlike. It’s massively heavy and as fragile as snowflakes. It’s doomed and it’s defiant. It’s drenched in sorrow, it’s explosive in its ferocity, it’s panoramic in its epic reach, and it’s often sublimely mystical. And frequently, it’s all of those things within the space of a single song.
The band’s musical arsenal is impressively vast. So many people have contributed their remarkable talents to the making of the album that it seems more like a tribe than a band. The album includes soft duets of acoustic and electric guitar, sombre piano melodies, shimmering keyboard ambience, the sound of orchestral strings, spine-shivering riffs, transfixing drum rhythms, bass lines that rumble like thunder and rise up like a bubbling spring, and some of the most mesmerizing (and jaw-dropping) guitar solos I’ve heard on any release this year. (I suppose I should also mention that there’s even some unexpected pulsations of electronica in the album’s closing track — which actually work.)
And the vocals… the vocals are tremendously varied and more than a match for the extravagant, shape-shifting emotional aura of the instrumental music. On the one hand, the harsh vocals are hellishly savage, a mix of jagged growls and wolfish howls. And way over on the other end of the spectrum, the clean vocals (frequently layered in harmony) are often high, soaring, and beautiful — the kind of high-arcing voices (sometimes in falsetto range) that reminded me of Jon Anderson when Yes was in its prime. And here and there, I could swear I heard the voices of an angelic choir.
You combine all these different vocal timbres and styles (contributed by at least four different people), and you get what Andy wrote about in his review of Restoration — an array of human sounds that “allows the group to express a wealth of deeper emotions, in all their joy and sorrow, grief and rage, agony and ecstasy and loss”.
The songs on the album are arranged in a way that magnifies the dynamism of the music and underscores the band’s ability to juxtapose light and dark, beauty and barbarism, in such striking fashion. “On These Deserted Plains” launches the album in a full-force rush, the ravaging power of its assault tempered in the mid-section by an elegant acoustic-and-electric-guitar duet. And then it’s followed immediately by “Towards Horizon”, a melancholy song that shimmers with forlorn beauty — though the intensity of the music begins to grow like a slow-burning fire in the last third of its length. Similar contrasts seemingly lie in wait around every corner, even within the two instrumental tracks — “Delphic Æther” and the heart-aching “Glass Dungeon” — which are anything but filler.
We’ve been fortunate to premiere two songs from the album — “What Words Create” (here) and “One In Spirit” (here) — and a third one recently became available on YouTube that we also featured here: “Divine Potion of Acumen“. If you’ve already heard those songs, you have an idea of what Amiensus have achieved on the new album, but trust me, you’re still only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Six more tracks are waiting for you, and they’re all multi-faceted gems.
I guess you can tell I really like this album. I’m also really glad that you only have to wait until tomorrow to hear all of it yourselves so that the shortcomings of my descriptions will no longer matter. Seriously, don’t miss Ascension.
Ascension is available for pre-order on Bandcamp — and the player below will stream those three previously released songs today, and everything else tomorrow.