The Lion And The Jester

SKU: 889326143956
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"Despite what the name might lead you to think, progressive metal is among the most static and boring of all heavy music genres. Half the bands that fall under the moniker exist merely as a vehicle to show off the skills of the players involved, which is fine in small doses, but rarely sustains a creative career. The other half of the bands stick rigidly to the blueprint of one of the fore-bearers of the genre, giving us music that sounds exactly like something we've already heard. Very little of progressive metal is actually interesting, because it is a genre that lacks people dedicated to the art of songwriting. Songs are what makes any band successful, no matter how much sheer musical skill they possess. Dream Theater didn't get to where they are just because they are amazing musicians, they also wrote a slew of great songs and albums. The number of progressive metal bands who have impressed me with their songwriting in recent years is miniscule, but I mention all of this because Ascendia is one of them.

As “At The End Of It All” swells into focus with a tribal drum beat and chanted vocals, it's already obvious that this is not going to be prog-by-numbers. The song kicks into gear with a syncopated guitar riff, before the vocals soar over the top of everything, slapping a thick coat of melody atop the sound. There's a quiet section in the middle of the song that feels like a cousin of Killswitch Engage, which is a fresh sound to hear in this kind of music. When it opens back up into the chorus, the song is massive, and it's hard to believe all of that music was contained in five and a half minutes.

The songs on the album are more bite-sized than typical progressive metal, but that plays into the band's strengths as songwriters. By keeping the songs lean and tight, they hit harder than if the instrumental sections had been extended by a minute here and there. There is interesting playing going on, but it's all done within the framework of the songs, and never put out front to dominate the spotlight. It's an approach that is smart not just because of how easy it is to get bogged down in instrumental pyrotechnics, but because an album of that sort would never be able to survive the Herculean vocal presence of singer Nick Sakal.

With more than a little bit of similarity to the former singer of the aforementioned Killswitch Engage, Howard Jones, Sakal's vocals dominate the album, making you wonder where a voice like that could have come from. His baritone is warm, rich, and not at all what you would expect to hear in a band that isn't playing down-tuned hardcore.

But what is most important are the songs, and that's where Ascendia proves themselves as standouts. Whether tackling more modern fare like “Remember Me”, or more traditionally melodic songs like “Moonchild”, there's a phenomenal blend of heavy riffing and soaring melody. I can't tell you how rare it is to hear a progressive metal band that is so in tune with melody, and can write songs that could stand up if they were stripped down to the chord structure and the vocals. We get an example of that with the duet ballad, “The Song That You Deserved”, a largely piano and voice song that is as beautiful as it is heart-breaking. Ascendia's ear for songs is excellent, and that is what makes “The Lion And The Jester” such an engaging listen. Song after song, there's a warm and inviting chorus waiting to wrap its arms around you after you've heard the heavy and intricate moments.

This year has been off to a ridiculously great start, with at least half a dozen legitimately great records having already come my way. Add “The Lion And The Jester” to that list, because Ascendia is making progressive metal the way it was always supposed to be. Both challenging and gratifying, intense and cathartic, “The Lion And The Jester” is a phenomenal piece of work that reminds me of the very best progressive metal I've ever heard. This is an album you need to hear.

Oh, and how awesome is that cover art? That is one album that will look as good as it sounds in a collection." - Bloody Good Horror

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  • Excellent US neoprog that will appeal to fans of Marillion and Iluvatar.
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  • "If we ever needed any further evidence of how thrash lifers Testament completely rule, look no further than this two-disc live album (how often can you say that?), which draws heavily upon their recent releases. And it does rule — hard. With a fun, energetic, raw production sound, the band's enthusiasm shines through loud and clear, and while it's always excellent to hear a few old classics, and here they sound as good as ever, what comes out of this declaration is that the new material is just as memorable, just as thrashing and heavier than ever. Check out songs like the amazing "Native Blood," delivered in an off-the-rails fashion, the blast beats that sounded a bit awkward on the album sitting just right in this context. Dark Roots of Thrash is a shining example of a band that are, surprisingly, at the top of their game late in their career, playing the songs they want to and delivering them with pure thrash metal glory. It's rare to love a live album this much, but such is the power of Testament." - Exclaim
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  • "Pin-Up Went Down are a new French duo…- let it start at the beginning.The whole story started with a myspace friend request. Nowadays I’m getting tired of them due to the continuous indie bands’ request; wanting me to be their fan. And these guys just appeared from the unknown. Oh my god…another one *click*….. OH MY GOD!…so this is it. I was sceptic and became surprised like hell, that this is a great band. I asked them for a promo and they sent me one. Thank you!-…a new French duo consisting Asphodel, the mistress of female activities and Alexis who is responsible for all the instruments can be heard in their music – guitar, bass, keys, electronics, etc. The project started less than one year ago as Carnival in Coal split up and former live drummer Alexis Damien launched this new project, called that time Esthete Piggie. Soon he was joined by Asphodel who can be known from Penubmra or Nowonmai.So I was surprised even more when I saw that big Ascendance Records banner on their profile, I couldn’t believe in my eyes. Ascendance Recs. is a label with the aim of collecting the progressive, experimental or just talented acts having a female voice. It’s a rather new label but already made deals with bands like Stolen Babies and unexpecT. So the name may sound familiar to some of you. - Get to the band!The name itself (which was created in the December 2007) evokes the era(s) of models who got into fashion and became covergirls posing in front of the camera. The words in the name can be considered as an oxymoron (up/down). And the second part of the name has the negative side, the final outcome is the fall of these beautiful creatures.The cover is unusual for an experimental/AG metal band but I suppose I just got used to weird, mindfucking artwork. I would say this is "mirror-avantgarde" quoting Tentakel P.’s Sigh review. It already gives a bit of music, it truly has a gothic line and this cover would perfectly fit a gothic metal band’s album of high standard.Seeing it we will notice the cold, metallic colours. The second thing one sees the vase with a sip of dirty water and the flower. Flower, really? No. It’s a piece of wire put in this glass vase…love is never easy.In the background a left hand’s shadow can be observed trying to grab the heart which is created by mirroring the title’s 2 to the left side. Contrary to the dominating rigid colours, the title is full of life and power with its bloody red appearance.And the music. So as it is written before, it surprised me. The first bit of this mass was a song I have listened on their myspace named Nearly Dead Bat Make up. Particularly, the vocals were the most interesting and outstanding. While listening to it I felt I am in a kind of wonderland. Asphodel is one of the most talented singers I have ever heard. She can sing rigidly, violently but on the other hand she has a definitive gothic background which teaches the girls to sing in a method can be recognized with ease (this style of singing can be heard near the end of the song). But. Yes…these buts. But she has a unique jazzy, though profile and another diverse which is something undefinable, smooth and soft disco styled one and not forget mentioning her childish one. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t tell another girl who are able to sing in these ranges…and she combines it with continuous changing of the pitch. Alexis delivers aggressive guitars and drums along with male growled/shouted vocals. I would highlight one moment: under the bridge, Asphodel sings in her disco styled while Alexis growls in the backgrounds and the whole thing explodes as guitars and the shouted vocals come in to form the chorus.Some lyrics have allusions to the various parts of (music) history. Nearly Dead Bat Make up also has a reference to the band Kiss and the people who believed them Satanists and Nazis. Another interesting part of this song is the very beginning, with the lyrics of "Be (-shuuMuut-) obscene, be-be aggressive". It’s a reference to Marilyn Manson’s mOBSCENE which has almost the same female lines originally stolen from Faith No More’s Be Aggressive. (-shuuMuut-) = (shut up M arilyn M anson).On the other hand, some of the lyrics may seem absurd like Pussy Worship which is built around the question girls ask themselves: What is it like being a man while having sex?. Only Some Shitty Chemical Stuff explains love only as a hormonal procession.The lyrics aren’t about one theme and message, they call up for situations, characters and images. Due to this, the music always changes differently and evolves, it follows the lyrics. There isn’t a central style, except the rock and metal basics. Pussy Worship is like pussy pop-punk with a gospel-like inlay. Only Some Shitty Chemical Stuff is an electronical, industrial metal song and first reminded me of the grotesque attitude to love presented in vocals and atmosphere one may know from the music of Rammstein. However, it becomes an acoustical ballad later.To sum up Pin-Up Went Down’s musical debut I must say I am extremely happy to know these two talented musicians with weird fantasies to turn them into reality. Their first album is surprisingly eclectic and delivered with overwhelming musical and vocal production, it’s one of the most promising first-time debut releases of all time of avantgarde music. Not joking." - Avant-gardeMetal.com
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    $7.00
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    $13.00
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    $13.00
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    $12.00
  • "Garden Wall would get heavier in subsequent albums, but on their debut the band seems to be paying tribute to a whole host of neo-prog bands like Marillion, Pendragon and Cathedral. In fact they remind me quite a bit of Cathedral with their heavy rhythm section grounding the guitar arpeggios and keyboard flourishes. The vocals here are measurably better though.I don’t know much about these guys, but this album shows they have a strong knowledge of eighties progressive rock. Musically they remind me a little bit of fellow countrymen Sad Minstrel with their highly expressive and heavier rock sound, but these guys rely a lot more on synth orchestral layers than that group. The songs all exude plenty of energy, although I’m left with a general feeling that this is closer to slightly moody eighties music than some of their neo contemporaries.While I said the vocals are better than bands like Cathedral, vocalist Alessandro Seravalle does have a strong attribute of the throaty singing of many eighties crooners like Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Holly Johnson or the Romantics Wally Palmar. The music isn’t anything like those bands, but Seravalle seems to be another in a long line of Bryan Ferry soundalikes who have graced album tracks over the past thirty years or so. Not necessarily a bad thing, and considering the band’s penchant for moody synthetic sounds on tracks like “Silent Waves in a Raging Ocean” and “Ekpyrosis”, his voice is for the most part a reasonable fit.Speaking of “Ekpyrosis”, this is the most lengthy song on the album at more than thirteen minutes, and while it features some grand climaxes and really cool chamber vocals, for the most part I think the thing drags on for a bit longer than is necessary, especially in the middle section.The band shows a glimpse of what’s to come with the closing “Onde Radio” though, a prototypical neo- prog number with driving drums, soaring electric guitar and a torrid pace. This is much close to the sound the band would show on their next couple of albums, but on this debut the brooding synth arrangements seem to be much more prevalent.This isn’t a great album by any means, but it is decent. So three stars are not unreasonable. I wouldn’t spend a lot of money on a copy, but at a fair price this would make an okay addition to most neo-progger’s collections. Recommended to fans of late eighties neo bands and those who like Italian music that isn’t awash with symphonic pompousness." - Progarchives
    $9.00
  • Debut release from this Finnish progressive/melodic metal band. Definite similarities to Circus Maximus in terms of style although vocalist Markku Kuikka has a midrange style - more Allen or Lande. Album caps off with the 15 minute title track that finds everything coalesce - wicked guitar and keys, full bodied vocals and plenty of hooks. I suspect this may be the beginning of a long successful story...
    $14.00