Ascend the Hollow - Echoes of Existence - (9.5/10)
Published on June 4, 2019
Every time I see a band “invent” a new genre it makes me cringe a little because it’s usually just a slight variation of an existing genre, and the fancy name seems like nothing more than a way to draw attention. Though I don’t think there’s necessarily something wrong with that, I do find it a bit pointless. However, this band has actually done it right. Ascend the Hollow is a European-based group that has created a new sound which they choose to describe as “cyber-tech metal”. And I honestly don’t think there could be a more accurate tag since any known metal sub-genre I might think of doesn’t really match what they do. So let’s try to dissect what is actually going here.
The main feature to notice is the highly electronic and digital sound the band puts together. It’s not just the fact that they use a lot of modern sci-fi sound effect sampling but also the fact that the metal part (guitars, bass, drums and even vocals) sound extremely electronic, with a slightly dubstep induced sort of fuzz. When it comes to the composition, I could say it’s written in a style that you’d identify as progressive death or maybe technical death metal. But it also has breakdowns and sick riffs that remind me of slam or brutal death metal (though there’s none of the filthy substance you’d find in brutal bands). When relating to the sound effect of the guitars and some of the really tight, sliced sort of riffing, it sounds a bit like djent or metalcore as well. But they don’t fully fit into any one of these styles at any given time because despite all the above mentioned influences that would imply this band is all about impact and brutality, they still deliver lots of melody, atmosphere and emotion. Especially the guitar leads are loaded with melody but also great technicality. It all comes wrapped in a very full and polished sound allowing them to build some massive momentum.
Some other key elements that come into play are the fast, drilling double pedals that can’t go unnoticed and especially the heavy artillery chugging unleashed by the nine string guitars and six string bass! If that’s not sick than I don’t know what is but I assure you that these guys are masters of the low frequency department. When they hit the low end, the guitars just burst into a crunchy, robotic roar that leaves any dedicated head-banger in a pool of serotonin. (See the intro riff on “This Dark Rage”).
At this point I feel I really need to make a statement that the aim of this album is not just brutality. They show a lot of maturity and that comes through in a very dark and genuinely disturbing concept. Two main themes come together here. One is the subject of mental illness and suicide. The other refers to triggering topics such as rape, murder and child sex abuse. Each song has it’s own subject and story but they all fit together to form a puzzle of dark images that is the album. But the part I really admire is the way they deliver this concept. Though they focus directly on the topic at hand, the lyrics have a metaphorical twist from time to time. My favorite example is the intro track, “Polaris Calling” where the bipolar disorder of mania and depression is represented in an image of duality between a seraph (heavenly being or angel that can be found in various religions – representing mania) and Polaris (North Star – representing depression). On the topic of mental illness there are also the songs “Swarms within” (that describes trypophobia – fear of irregular patterns) and “Prisoners of the Storm” (this one is all about depression). On the topic of rape, the story that caught my attention was the one of a teenage serial killer who presumably only killed rapists (it’s based on true events). What I like about this story is that they presented it in 3 songs (“Mother of Morality”, “This Dark Rage” and “Repent, Rewind, Reset”) and gave it their own interpretation in each song, allowing the lyrics to dig deep into the character’s mind and actually empathize with her on some level.
Now here’s where the shit gets real! The music is sick and the concept is brutal but they’re really made to properly come together. The wide array of sound effects they use works like a soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi movie, delivering the image of a futuristic, highly mechanized desolate and sickening world. This is where the vocals make a stand, because the really deep emotional singing seems to truly draw the pain from this imagery. There’s also growls that sound flat, lifeless and cold. And it all gets even fiercer when both clean vocals and growls are put through a robotic voice effect (See the songs “Vessels” and “Repent, Rewind, Reset”)
Some very important moments in the album are the two atmospheric tracks. “Into the Black Eye” works as an intro for “This Dark Rage” and also seems to split the album in half. The lyrics are in Polish and they once again relate to cosmic imagery. But the outro track, “C3lls” is probably the most epic moment in the entire album, creating a seriously eerie and morbid atmosphere. It feels like an epilogue and it sees every part of the world secluded by stating “we are alone in this world” in 5 different languages. It also seems to convey a bitter and doubtful sense of hope by closing with the line “Is anybody left on this earth?”. To tell you the truth, I felt genuinely shaken by this album. If you know what the songs are about and you allow yourself to properly get immersed into it, it makes you tick in a really dark way. It’s seriously innovative in its sound and incredibly expressive. With “Echoes of Existence” the band has put together a somber and penetrating theater of dark energies and vivid pictures. So just know before playing this album that you’ve never heard anything like it before.