Paladin - Ascension - (9.5/10)
Published on May 8, 2019
Genre:Power / Melodic Death
Sometimes an album makes an instant impact and its rank among the hierarchy of the year is immediately notable. Within four minutes of hearing Ascension, the debut album from Georgia’s Paladin, I knew this would make top 10 material. And so far nothing looks likely to shake it from its pedestal. Yes, you heard me, this is a debut album. Though the talent on show betrays a band hitting their peak after 3 or 4 full-lengths, Paladin go straight for the jugular with both quantity and quality on their very first LP. ‘Straight for the jugular’ is also how I’d describe their musical manner. Despite using a generic fantasy-based moniker such as ‘Paladin’, this is no pompous, flowery Fairyland or Rhapsody clone. This is ripping, shredding, blazing power metal more akin to Ancestral or early Primal Fear. Whichever way you approach this album, it kicks ass.
During the sledgehammer opener “Awakening”, what instantly comes to mind is the sheer attitude that could only come from a band so fresh (and, dare I say, young?). This really is a no-holds-barred approach in all aspects. The rhythm section utterly blasts away at high tempos, only slowing down on incredibly rare occasions, but keeping everything under expert control. Solos leap up and down the fretboard with amazing athleticism and riffs are creative, both in their lower and upper registers. The furious “Bury The Light” displays this characteristic between the 2 and 3-minute marks, as riffs and tempos change up and down in pitch and speed without losing an ounce of flow. The dual attack of Taylor and Alex on the six-strings is utterly unbeatable – especially when you consider Taylor performs vocals as well. Check out the main riff to single “Shoot For The Sun”; that’s Dave Mustaine levels of wizardry!
My favourite trait of Ascension is one that took me by surprise. After snapping my neck to the catchy-as-fuck “Awakening” with its badass riff and hooky chorus, “Divine Providence” knocked me on my ass with some harsh vocals. Turns out the opening track is one of only two numbers with no growls! And this is no gimmick shoved in to rile up the more elite power metal die-hards, Taylor’s roars are an integral part of the band’s sound and are executed with aplomb and decipherability. I wish more power metal acts would employ this vocal technique but it does mean the line between power metal and melodeath gets blurred – which would turn away the more narrow-minded metalhead. The more meaty segments of Ascension are enhanced by the growls and provide a decent contrast of light and dark throughout the album. The entire latter half of “Dawn Of Rebirth” is a riff-fest heavier than a rhino’s scrotum and the riff at 2:31 in “Divine Providence” is my favourite moment on the entire LP – pure headbang heaven.
There is very little sense of ebbing and flowing or dipping and peaking on Ascension. It’s more of a razor-sharp arrow, boring its way through splintering wood and bursting flesh for 49 minutes straight. Sure, there’s a brief respite in the contrapuntal guitar feature of “Genesis”, but that’s in the last five minutes of the album! This is the definition of ‘balls to the wall’ – but with a sense of restraint that lets the listener know everything is in expert hands. Amazing vocal diversity, constant driving momentum, vicious riffs, shredding solos, well-structured songs that never settle for ‘good enough’ – Ascension is the unexpected newcomer of the year and should put Paladin on everyone’s map for 2019. Incredible statement.