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(72:35; Metatronic Records)
So, the boys are back with their fourth album. There can’t be many bands who can say that the only change in line-up since the debut is that the father of two of the members joined in time for the second and they have been the same ever since. While Martin Walker (guitars) is there to keep a weather eye on his sons Craig (drums) and Gavin (bass) the line-up is completed by Darrel Treece-Birch (keyboards) and Michael Alan Taylor (vocals). DTB and I have been friends for some years, ever since I came across his solo album ‘Celestial’ years ago, and he in turn then came across my review. As well as being an active artist in his own right (I urge you to check out his albums if you haven’t already), he is also keyboard player with Ten and has appeared on the last five albums with that band, so is certainly busy. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Alan’s solo album as well, ‘Avalonia (The Sonnets of Guinevere)’ which was one of my albums of the year for 2018. Get it on vinyl! That’s enough back story and we need to get on with the album at hand. Writing in the band is very collaborative, with Initial ‘bare bones’ of songs being brought into a rehearsal setting and the band enhancing from there. Once the song is fleshed out and expanded upon it is then ready for playing live or indeed recording. All members of the band bring ideas to the table and in some cases a reinvention of older ideas from the various incarnations of previous bands, e.g. “Sound To Light” is a song written originally in 1991 by DTB, at which time it was only eight minutes long and not the epic 18 minutes it now closes the album with. The guys cite different references, with the likes of Marillion, Genesis, Yes, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Rush, Dream Theater and Pink Floyd being mentioned, but they have taken all those elements and then built them into something which is very much of their own design. Musically this is highly arranged neo prog which also straddles at times into melodic hard rock and symphonic prog, by a band who are determined people are not going to forget the “rock” side of the terminology. Martin is an inventive guitarist who produces superb solos and hard riffs while Gavin keeps it all together and Craig shows he is determined to make his drums front and centre. He doesn’t overpower what is going on but instead provides fills and rolls as if he is channelling his inner Neal Peart. Then you have DTB and Michael Alan. DTB isn’t a flashy keyboard player in any way, and fully understands his part in this band, so at times he can seem almost restrained, but that is because here is a group who feel incredibly organic, who understand the whole is more important than individuals and he is always there either providing support to others, adding melodic nuances or touches as the need arises. At the front there is Mr. Taylor, surely one of the most under-rated singers in the scene. His vocals drip emotion, and are always full of power, and although he may not sing as high as others his approach is perfect for the music at hand. Nth Ascension have somehow never managed to capture the imagination and interest of progheads like many others who are less worthy, and perhaps that is because there is at times an opinion from some that neo prog is a term only to be used with derision. But take it from me, it was this style of music which kept the scene alive some 25 years ago, and if this had been released back then it would be deemed to be a classic of the genre. As for me, I’m just going to keep playing this and enjoying it each and every time, as the boys have yet again delivered the goods.
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