Coalesce, the stellar debut album from Ascending Dawn, quickly ascended into my Top Ten Prog Albums of 2014.
I love this album and I think it is totally brilliant. It’s a rare thing for me to want to return again and again to listening to an album out of pure passionate craving. Usually, programming my playlists is more of a daily routine and chore: today I will listen to…. etc., etc. But lately, I had the happy experience where the first thing I wanted to listen to every day was Coalesce! And then, later in the day, I wanted to hear it again! I tell you, it has been awhile since I have so thoroughly enjoyed and craved an album with such intensity.
I know my desire comes from the intense musical intelligence that is built in to every song. This album has so many nice little touches and details to enjoy. The first track to instantly appeal to me was “Integral,” no doubt because it has a tastefully virtuoso guitar solo. But that track only came fourth on the album; it took me longer to appreciate the genius of the first three tracks because there was no flashy guitar solo to immediately leap out at me. Instead, there is a careful layering of sonic elements that appears quite dense in its ambient tone at first, but then slowly unfolds its beautiful structures with repeated listens. The band describes their ambient prog metal sound thus:
Pummeling riffs and soaring ambient lines are complemented by clean melodies and harmonic backings, defining our signature sound.
“All in Now” (4:10) kicks off the album and it is really quite an interesting song. As here, the vocals on the whole album seem deliberately mixed lower in volume in order to make the vocals an integral part of the total band sound, rather than to place the vocalist up front and to relegate the other musicians to “back up” status. Yet Marlain Angelides is such a powerful singer that the listener’s first reaction is to want to hear her a bit more up front in the mix. For example, at 1:37 into the first track she belts out a dazzling melisma that makes you want to hear her highlighted more up front as the superstar vocalist that she obviously is. But, over time, a more profound appreciation for the band’s intricate craft grows, as you begin to understand how she is carefully woven into the musical panorama of the band’s signature sound for greater purposes. The “All in Now” track deceptively seems to end at 2:25, but it then mounts a comeback with some very satisfying musical surprises. It builds and builds with fabulous riffing and killer drums and siren-like vocals to announce as its implied conclusion: Watch out, world! Ascending Dawn has arrived!
“Miscommunication” (4:11) is the second track and it has a supercool riff with sharp contrasts of alternating timbre that is very unusual and extraordinarily fascinating. The whole track unfolds with Ascending Dawn’s characteristic tastefulness for building musical drama and interest. Particularly notable on this entire album is the way that drums and guitars are so tightly synchronized in ways you do not usually hear with other bands. Chalk that up to the fact that the band’s main composer, drummer Mark Weatherley, also plays guitars on the album. Constanze Hart on bass and Owen Rees on guitars also contribute to the solid arrangement of it all, and their musical talent is manifest in the unusually and impressively tight band sound of the coherent whole. Marlain Angelides co-writes all the songs with lyrics, and I suspect she must be thus responsible for the poetic side of musical images. These are some really great songs! What a band. They work together perfectly on this album.
“Cannonball” (4:40) regularly lays down an impressive enfilading fire of drum fills, yet the whole track is further proof of the band’s dedication of individual virtuosity to a greater group sound in service of the whole song. It’s the putative single off the album, but any of the first four tracks could serve that role, since they are each individual, self-contained wholes that introduce the band’s unique sound with carefully embedded musical touches that repay repeated listenings.
In fact, I would argue that the fourth track, “Integral” (4:40), is the more natural single off the album, since its instantly accessible guitar solo performs the invaluable service of getting prog metal heads like me interested in the band and willing to give them further listens, to unlock further access to deeper levels of musical virtuosity. “Integral” has some of my favorite lyrics on the album, and I really love it as the band rocks out at the end and Marlain’s soaring vocals exhort the listener to “become a truth addict.”
Beginning with track 5, “Opposites” (4:09), we have next a four-song sequence that is cross-faded together, so that unless you are paying attention you almost won’t be able to tell when one song turns into another. Thus, the album opens up into my favorite territory: a nineteen-minute prog epic that is comprised of “Opposites” (4:09), “Simplify” (4:11), “Inside the Silence” (6:19), and finally the dazzling ambient instrumental, “Opaque” (3:57). It is this coherent musical epic that had me returning again and again to listen to this brilliant album.
In fact, in my mind I consider album track 4, “Integral”, to be a kind of prelude to the whole sequence of the album tracks 5, 6, 7, and 8, and then I further consider track 9, “Indiscretion” (5:21), to be the epic coda to it that ties it all together. So, in effect, Ascending Dawn serves up a prog epic in six movements: tracks 4 through 9 — an epic 29 minutes in total.
I love the way the album pacing is constructed: tracks 1 through 3 get you warmed up, and then the epic goods are delivered for the remainder of the album. The instrumental track “Opaque” lets you experience the band in its full-on musical intensity of ambient intelligence, and then the whole experience concludes with Marlain’s epic wailing over the pummeling guitars that conclude “Indiscretion” (track 9). There is an uplifting and transcendent feel to the album’s conclusion that lives up to the band’s name. In the end, we ascend with Ascending Dawn.
Don’t miss this album. On it, you will discover all your own favorite moments with nice little touches, such as the musical burst at 2:47 in “Simplify” that is so perfectly timed you can never fail to revel in its satisfying sonic seductions. If you’re like me, you can’t get enough of top-quality music like this! This album rightly occupies its prominent place in my Top Ten Prog Albums of 2014.