Paladin – Ascension Review

Review Written by Musicgirl

GenrePower Metal
Release Date17 May 2019
Record LabelProsthetic

If all power metal bands were as strong and intense as Galneryus, the late Three Inches of Blood, or Paladin here, the genre would be a lot better off. A release like Ascension sadly drops far too infrequently.  Occasionally some curds need to be skimmed off, but Ascension keeps you on the edge of your seat for fifty glorious minutes.

The album opens with a blast. A torrent of Yngwie-style fretwork just mows you down. I suppose there is nothing terribly groundbreaking here, but few albums can match the energy. Then the vocals kick in, and you immediately notice the cadence and uplift of classic 90s power metal. One is really in for a treat when the vocals thrash out on the opener ‘Awakening’ and on a number of other tracks here. This is serious innovation and about time! I don’t think I am the only one turned off by the sickly sweet tendencies on the refrain of your usual power metal vocal number. The better power bands like Stratovarius, while no less happy and Ionian than the genre’s typical fodder, always manage to move you beyond words with their pacing, intensity, and force. They, of course, are not thrashy at all, tending toward very clean vocals. Paladin show that rougher vocals in spots is just another vehicle to build tension toward the refrain and create an incredible adrenaline rush. It certainly doesn’t hurt that lead singer Taylor Washington’s clean voice, once it comes on, is so rich and beautiful, absolutely one of the best out there today. 

Paladin could stand to be just slightly more selective on the insertion of  thrash vocals. They somewhat interrupt the profundity of ‘Vagrant.’ This excellent track starts out folksy and mysterious, a mood maintained when the vocals (cleaner) commence. This time addition of thrash vocals a little later shatters the depths and seems trite, though the uncleans work fine even later in the song.  

Paladin has great success when thrash influences the entire writing of a song and is not just an afterthought. ‘Call of the Night’ is such a thrashier number. Structure is slightly looser and more ambient. This makes the song contrast well to others on the album. ‘Call of the Night”s catchy, cleanly sung refrain is more intense due to the thrash vocals on the verse. Thankfully this refrain is also kept brief as not to detract from the dark mood. Additional clean vocals are saved for the Medieval-like bridge.     

Songs on Ascension tend to have longer-than-usual guitar solos. This is far from wankery. Lead axe wielder Parra is a completely commanding spinner of engrossing tales with his instrument. There is never a dull or overindulgent moment when he takes center stage. Part of the reason is that he knows to vary the style, while still retaining his distinct technique. For example, on ‘Dawn of Rebirth’, Parra gets classical at one point and highly dissonant at another; these are ideas not reiterated in other songs.

One of my favorite songs on Ascension, ‘Call of the Night’, is very guitar oriented. The solo is vaguely Medieval, even borrowing some genuine patterns from early music. The absorbing guitar outro shows off Alex Parra’s high skill level on a variety of technique including rapid arpeggios.

Besides the already mentioned songs and passages, I have two more favorites on Ascension. One is ‘Shoot for the Sun’. The intro is simple and focused, pulling one right along into a mean, old-school hard rock melody.   Why is that not in the slightest bit tired, just the opposite, really? It’s probably because of the speed and the generous, varied guitar riffing underneath.   

With ‘Divine Providence’, we get a damn catchy, well-crafted earth shaker with mainly thrash or even pseudo black/death vocals. The guitar in the background cycles through broken chord inversions, a potent attention grabber and counterpoint to the vocal fire. Then enters some high-register overdubbing of dark, diminished patterns on the guitar, providing additional substance.  Rarely do you get these many ideas coming together in one song. The latter songs of the album seem to have a solemn sense of purpose. The listener can feel being tunneled into some higher calling of the band. The last track ‘Genesis’ radiates definiteness and hope. This is because Paladin is a theistic ensemble lyrically. There is a tight feeling of redemption here. Yet, non-theistic rationalists like myself never get the sense that they’re being missionized. Ascension is absolutely an album for every power and NWOTHM fan. If one rigidly shuns it due to lyrics, one only does a very big disservice to oneself.

Review Written by Musicgirl

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Categories: Power Metal, Reviews

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