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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Album Review : Arc of Ascent - The Higher Key

As the turbulent summer swells leave cancerous marks on your outer epidermis, you detect a pungent odor seeping from your local airport. Left doob-less in your parking lot by your friends who forgot to menton they gave away your plane ticket to roadburn, you stare with empty eyes down at the pavement, noticing the familiar stench creeping ever closer. To your surprise, a rental van careens its way towards you. Inside that vehicle are some grungy looking folks with off-accents asking you directions to St. Vitus in the city to catch a show. Gripping your chest, you realize these tokers are toting a mess of equipment- and are clearly none-other than New Zealand psychedelic metal trio Arc of Ascent.

Of course this anecdote would be awesome if true- however, what steals more of one's breath is this group's newest record The Higher Key is a great surmising of 90s stoner staples. Ominous, pervasive, continuous riffs are the tides upon which this album floats- a smashing, burning homage to the likes of Sleep, Kyuss, and Electric Wizard.

Track 1 : "The Celestial Altar"
This tune hits it straight off with a singular unifying riff. The riff plods on with the drums kicking in and whirring until Garcia-esque vocals swimming from bassist/vocalist Craig Williamson's neck wires. The turbulent first tune dirges on till whirring into a confident guitar solo courtesy of guitarist Sandy Schaare. What's groovy about this is that there is no underlying rhythm track occurring during the solo, however Craig manages to hold it down without the mix sounding weak.

Track 2 : "Land of Tides"
Hello Desert ROCK!
This tune slips us upside the head with cuts that Josh Homme could have saved in a vault for years. From the whirring melodic repetition of the initial riff, to the dissonant modal riffage of the chorus- these guys know their doom. This tune roars on forward in typical Verse Chorus fashion until the slinky bluesy guitar face melting returns. There are a couple times when the pace stiffens and pushes forward, however, the tune once hitting the guitar solo is a straight shot to the end.

Track 3: "Search for Liberation"
Here's one you Monster Magnet/Hawkwind fans will dig. A repeating washed out guitar line harps for a time with swelled simple melodies coming from the vocals. These wanes and fades into special effects land are made more apparent with flurries of heavily distorted minor variations on the key. Slow and burgensome, the song keeps pace with its dynamic peaks until halfway through when we see a distinctive shift in riff to something a little more electric wizard approved. The best part of this tune is how much the band makes use of dynamics to build into the heavier sections than consecutively crush you with spaced out madness. Dig it

Track 4: "Redemption"
A scalding foray of doomness. The vocals skim the top of a singular potent riff until the song breaks into the bridge- this song almost carries like an Acid King tune- aggressive and consistent - whilst adding a bit of mud into the mix. This breaks into yet another heavy, heavy pre-solo bridge before returning to the original verse/chorus riffs. A solid tune.

Track 5 : "Elemental Kingdom"
The beginning evokes Om- with John Strange laying on some tambourine effects for us to a persistent guitar drone. This tune hurdles on with heavy ride cymbal-work and a behemoth of a quarternote drone save for the riff shift on the chorus- somewhat catchy. The lyrics are somewhat ethereal, out-there, and alluding to a higher consciousness. The parts following the second chorus are led off with a vocal-doubling of the guitar line followed by a middle-eastern tinged solo before moving back to the initial riffs and another vocal doubling at the end. Dig it!

Track 6: "Through the Rays of Infinity"
Filtered, Fluxuated, and freaky. This tune reminds one a little bit of Earthless, long, winding, and whispering and DRENCHED with a phaser. Its got its Welcome To Sky Valley-esque choruses and NOT ONE but TWO wah'd out solos. The vocals are mostly sung almost as if to serenade gregorian chant- with the root-note being the held note for the majority of the time. Mountainous revolving riffs and allusions to the holy land caress this 9 minute epic. 

Overall, a solid record with ethereal lyrics and jolting, jostling, guitar winds. There is not too much over-playing - these guys are tight and keep most things simple. Certainly not a bad thing. A great listen for any fan of early 90s desert scene rock. Give it a listen, and hope that if your friends DO decide to leave you at an airport, you have this on your smartphone in queue so you can brave the air-train/subway ride home. Delicious sounding for those wavy summer days!

Arc of Ascent is :
Craig Williamson - Bass/Vocals
John Strange - Drums
Sandy Schaare - Guitar

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