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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Ascent of Everest

How Lonely Sits the City

Review by Gary Hill

When you say “Nashville, Tennessee” it conjures up a lot of things. Country music, Graceland and the Grand Ole Opry are a few of them. Progressive rock is not really one that comes to mind. Well, that might be about to change. The Ascent of Everest comes from Nashville and their music is definitely prog. While it might not be the most easily accessible, this stuff is dense and has a high learning curve, it is unique and creative. I suppose you might hear Radiohead on this, but groups like Birdsongs of the Mesozoic and Djam Karet and even Hawkwind also might jump into your head. The music is quite symphonic in nature, with whole sections seeming to fit better under the heading of classical music. It also shares ground with space rock and jam band sounds, but still has enough noisy crunch interspersed to keep those with an allergy to heavy metal away. This is not for everyone, but it is incredibly creative and segments are exceptionally powerful. Don’t expect to fall in love with this the first time you hear it – it improves with repeated listenings. For more information (including how to get the disc) stop by the band’s website or myspace profile.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Alas, Alas! The Breath Of Life!
Dramatic tones start the disc expectedly with atmospheric levels threatening to rise up. A dainty melody comes in over this backdrop. As other instruments make appearances the effect is of something that is disjointed, but on the verge of coalescing. It shows signs of shifting from the nearly classical approach that started into a full rock arrangement. This becomes more and more likely to occur with each passing measure. It’s not until the piece hits the four-minute mark that this promise comes true. Then the group launch out into a melodic prog excursion over which the vocals are barely heard. This is organic and pretty. They move it out after a time into a more sparse arrangement then strings and other instrumentation make their way across the musical landscape as the percussion lends drama to the song. This is extremely powerful and in keeping with older (more symphonic) prog bands. Eventually they power this out into a new movement that is more rock oriented, but also features waves of strings in patterns that call to mind ethnic music. It gets quite powerful and lush in its treatment. At about seven and a half minutes they turn this towards a dark metallic sound, but the symphonic instruments remain to create an intriguing sonic motif. This plays through then drops away leaving an acoustic guitar to create a balladic tone. The other instruments begin to work within this mode as the piece starts to build back upward. They manage to turn this into another powerful outing here with dramatic tones intertwined with powerful instrumental interplay. The eventually drop it way back again to end.
As The City Burned We Trembled For We Saw The Makings Of Its Undoing In Our Own Hearts
While this cut has the longest title of the album (and perhaps that I’ve seen this year) it is the shortest track on the disc. That said, it still clocks in at a respectable seven minutes (plus change). Symphonic strings lead this one off, too, but it’s much sooner that the group turn it into the rocking tones. At first this has a more melodic, but yet dark, tone. Then they move out into a more furious arrangement that calls to mind King Crimson playing with a symphony orchestra. Some seriously noisy guitar stirs overhead, then they drop it back towards jazz to continue. Some vocals are heard way back in the mix. And all this happens in the first two minutes. From there they drop it to percussion, feeling a bit military in their rhythms. The strings begin to rise above this and then more traditional prog instruments start to enter the mix. It drops way back to chime sounds. Then another segment of noisy guitar takes over, leading the group in a new variation on their theme. This moves out into a rather spacey noise jam later. Then the most captivating segment of the track a classical goes prog movement takes it, getting noisy at times. It eventually crescendos, giving way to more pretty classical tones based around a piano melody. This short portion segues straight into the next number. This is a bit of a strange track, but also quite tasty.
Molotov
The piano from the previous piece takes it unaccompanied in intricate patterns to start this off. After a time the other classical elements join and the group work through some ideas this way. They drop it back to atmosphere for a time, though. That doesn’t last long, though. Instead the group move this out into another melodic prog motif. As strings come across this it reminds me a bit of Camper Van Beethoven. They stay in this zone for quite some time, adding layers and textures to the mix to bring more power and drama into the game. Then it powers upward into a cacophonic sort of space jam. Eventually this drops gradually away and piano takes the forefront. The funny thing is that piano was there all along, just lost in the midst of the chaos. This plays through as almost a lullaby – a stark contrast to what came before. Then soft vocals enter accompanied by the symphonic strings. This is so far in the mix to almost qualify as “atmosphere,” but it carries the cut for a time this way. At about six and a half minutes in, though, they move it out into a more melodic progression and we get the first vocals that are actually somewhat close to the front. This is an organic form of progressive rock. They create some exceptionally intriguing melodies and counter-lines throughout the course of this powerful segment. Eventually a more rocking guitar sound takes the forefront, but still the rest of the arrangement carries on during this. They twist this around into a different riff based in these same textures later. Eventually they drop it back to what sounds like a church organ to finally take the track out.
A Threnody (For The Victims Of November Second)
As this comes in it feels almost like the soundtrack to a horror film. It’s dark and somber in texture composed of atmospheric tones with pieces of noisy music emerging barely over the top. A monologue from a newscast (or campaign speech, I think – this might be Obama) comes over talking about the President’s view of the nation and the contrast of what the country is really like. The musical tones begin to rise from out of the ether behind this clip. This is a long clip, allowing the musicians to take their time creating the musical backdrop. Eventually these textures, still running in slow threads of sound come further and further into the foreground. The voice falls further in the background as these noisy, but still darkly beautiful, elements weave slowly moving patterns of music. The voice takes the lead again after a time, and then a new melody, more classical in nature starts to accompany it. As this gains power there are vocal lines in the mix, but still quite far back. After the speaking goes away they move this upward in very pretty, but still quite somber ways. The vocals gain prominence in the course of the song. The instrumentation here is nearly all classical, but they explode this out into a more rock take on these compositional ideas and once again they achieve incredible levels of power and emotion in their delivery. This gets a bit noisy, but it’s still quite pretty at the same time. It dissolves into more noise oriented territory at the end and the voice returns.
If I Could Move Mountains
This cut, at over fourteen minutes the longest on the disc, is actually a three-part suite. It is tracked as one song, though, so I can’t really figure out where the sections end. Therefore, I’ll review it as one song. Rising out of atmosphere left behind from the last song, this comes up almost like a dinosaur with a noisy roaring sound made by echoey, distorted guitar surrounded by more classical elements. Other sounds are heard at points in the mix. Eventually a ballad-like structure emerges from behind this and starts to climb into prominence. They wind up moving out to a Hawkwind-like (granted a stripped down Hawkwind) like segment with bass guitar chording serving as the backdrop for vocals and some pieces of sound laid over this. Eventually this builds up in intensity and powers out quite well. After a time new elements of melody emerge to bring dramatic emotions with them and the arrangement begins to soar. Classical strings and other instruments dance around in a joyous celebration. They drop it back to more mellow tones, but then power out into one of the most rocking segments of the disc here. Chirping guitar soars overhead as other instruments build on the melodies and rhythmic structures that maintain this creation. This works through for a while, then drops away, leaving only more sedate sounds. That mode carries this for a while, but then they scream back out into another manifestation of the group’s unique prog sound. Later on it drops back to a mellow incarnation (again drawing on the classical leanings) of the musical themes. This is pretty and quite gentle. As they continue on this path it turns even more toward sedate classical music. Then a new prog ballad type texture enters, but European folk music can be heard in the midst of this segment. The cut takes on more beauty here, but also makes some definite adventurous explorations. Later on they move it out towards noisy space music with the sounds of people screaming (like children playing) in the background. A lone voice (more like an instrument) takes the lead here. The music of the track moves downward leaving only the children to finally end it.
 
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