A month ago The Maestro asked me if I was in the mood a challenge. Stupidly, I thought “Sure, why not?” So, he handed me the debut release from ASCENDIA, The Lion and the Jester (out now independent release) to review. Fast forward a couple of weeks, and there I am whining to the boss that it’s too hard. Pursuant to his advice (“Suck it up and get back to work, buttercup!”) I finally sit here able to get all of my thoughts down somewhat coherently, and what a relief it is.
This is a really good disc, but it’s complicated. I’m normally a power metal kind of guy, and there’s a lot of that here. I am most assuredly NOT a big fan of the symphonic metal sound (ala NIGHTWISH or later KAMELOT) and there’s even more of that here. Mix in a little prog and a bunch of orchestrations, and you start to get an idea of what I mean by “complicated”.
I’ll start with the vocals. Nick Sakal has a deep resonant voice that’s instantly pleasing. There’s no falsetto wankery here – just some beautiful singing that, at times, channels not only some of the great tenor power metal singers, but also has the appeal of a classic crooner. There’s nothing wrong with that comparison – he’s just THAT versatile and talented. In particular, I loved “Last Forever” – and yes, he kind of channels a Michael Bolton sound on that track, but to be completely honest, Nick could make an album of Michael Bolton covers completely enjoyable for me.
The music was a little more of a struggle for me – it’s good, but it does have a strong taste of the later years of Roy Khan era KAMELOT, which really just did not appeal to me at all. However, after spending a LOT of time with the disc, I grew to appreciate it on its own merits and can separate it from the rest of the symphonic metal pack. The orchestrations feel a little superfluous at times, but that’s a personal preference – it did make the album a little less accessible for someone like myself who prefers more of a classic power metal sound, and I have to wonder how they transfer to a live setting (I really hope to see ASCENDIA live one day, but share a disdain for backing tracks with many of my peers.)
The guitar sound from Jon Luv is excellent – he’s got a great feel for the flow of a song, and his solos are nothing short of awesome. Brother Billy Luv is an able and solid drummer, and John Abanador’s bass is consistent, if a bit low in the mix for my taste. The keyboardist known only as Maestro (no relation to the boss) provides some great synth lines that really support the rest of the music and never jumps out in front as the main focus, unlike a lot of synth parts in symphonic metal.
For a debut album, this is a very solid outing, and while it took a while for it to grow on me, it’s now stuck in my rotation. I can’t wait to see what ASCENDIA has up their sleeve next, and really hope to see them on stage in the very near future. Check this one out.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Last Forever”, “Moonchild”, “Faded Away”, “Remember Me”