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March 25, 2013

Steff Metal reviews: Arc of Ascent – the Higher Key

Brutal Tunes

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arc-of-ascent-the-higher-key-steffmetal

Have I told you guys about Arc of Ascent yet? No? Well, now I shall.

Arc of Ascent consists of Craig Williamson, who sings, plays bass, keyboards, sitar and probably dances naked for your enjoyment. Sandy Schaare on guitar and John Strange rounds out the trio but, since he’s a drummer, he probably doesn’t dance naked for anyone. The Higher Key is their second release, following on from 2010’s Circle of the Sun and demonstrating some of the same psychedelic influences present in Williamson’s solo project, Lamp of the Universe.

I’ve said before that, when it comes to metal, us kiwi’s do two things extremely well: anarchistic, ritualistic war metal, and stoner doom. In The Higher Key, you have a fine example of the latter. Williamson does a fine job of melding smoldering rock n’roll riffs with pshychedic tripping and pain-laced lyrics of doom and esoterica. Pounding, trudging drums drive the pace of this album, and, while it’s clear Williamson’s vision controls the songs, the trio create a cohesion of sound that ensures the success of this album.

While that elemental murky depth is present in the music, the production is surprisingly clean, which might perhaps turn off some fans who prefer their stoner doom with that harsh, distorted edge. To me, the quality and depth of this production allow the music to speak for itself. That intense, brooding atmosphere is created solely through the riffs and solos, through those pounding drums and powerful vocals.

For me, the standout tracks are the opener, “The Celestrial Altar”, which definitely draws comparisons with Kyuss for the rich tone and clever composition. “Search for Liberation” explores their psychedelic side, and manages to draw the listener in and keep their attention despite the cumberson length (over 8 minutes). “Redemption” shows the power of a single, simple riff to capture the mind and propel the listener through a dark world. Bass and drums work seamlessly here together, and Schaare’s solo at the end of this track elevates and intensifies. At a meaty 9 minutes,”Through the Eyes of Infinity” is the longest track on the album, but by far one of the most interesting, with all the trappings of psychedelica packed in with killer riffs, dark, rich bass and remote, mysterious vocals.

Lyrically, The Higher Key deals with astral projection, esoterica, swirling stars and imploding galaxies, and elemental bodies. Sometimes it seems impossibly hopeless, at other times, almost uplifting. This is, in short, a stunning album, and it certainly shows a progression and depth from Circle of the Sun. If you love trippy space rock and stoner doom, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you pick up Arc of Ascent’s The Higher Key.

Arc of Ascent don’t play live that often, but they have been supporting Beastwars on some of their local shows and are fucking incredible. Do NOT miss them. You can get The Higher Key and Circle of the Sun on the Arc of Ascent Bandcamp Page, and stay up-to-date with news on The Arc of Ascent Facebook page.

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