Melbourne-based prog/power/symphonic Metallers Divine Ascension have been together seven years by my reckoning, quietly putting together something very special, biding their time to show their hand. That time is now, and my how they've grasped their opportunity...
Opening track 'Dawn Brings No Mercy' is a classy enough opening, the band putting itself through its high-end prog Metal paces with alacrity and no little style, but it still doesn't really hint at the majesty to come.
No, the first time you're fully aware that you might be in the presence of greatness comes with track two, stronger. It's here that vocalist Jen Borg announces herself to anyone that cares to listen that she's in possession of a voice that can mix it with the very best female voices in metal, By turns ballsy, melodic but most importantly devastatingly soulful, Borg's voice is a revelation on this album.
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The title track marries shimmering keys, muscular riffs and pounding double kick in a power Metal tour de force as Borg again soars above the carnage being created beneath her, but the quality dips slightly on the overlong 'My Contender Lies'; It's not an actively bad track, you understand, but it does struggle to live up to the brilliance exhibited on the album's opening three tracks.
This is a temporary glitch, happily, as the excellent 'Sorrow's Sacrifice' ups the quality ante again on the back of a superb chorus and some neatly dealt songwriting dynamics. If there's one thing that marks this band out as real contenders apart from Borg's voice, it's their use of atmospherics; Almost every song featured here benefits from this superior ear for arrangement, and that skill is shown at its best on '...Sacrifice'. Watch here also fo some superb guitar work from Karl Szulik and Robb Inglis.
Crystal Tears features another superb performance from Borg (and I make no apologies if I'm boring you with these effusions of praise – they are all thoroughly deserved); The song is OK, nothing more nothing less, but the singing transcends the slightly mundane nature of the riffage to take the listener to heights they have no business dreaming about, let alone hearing. It's a true gift Jennifer Borg has, and she uses it to its fullest extent here.
Next track Machine is, need I say it, top notch. Riding in on the back of some spritely bass work from Jason Meracis before building into another Divine Ascension-patented anthemic epic, the track lurches from guitar blitzkrieg to it's final, chiming keyboard ending (David Van Pelt providing the ivory-based allure here) in seamless fashion, defying the listener to take a breath or blink an eye in case something is missed. Again this is breathtaking stuff – but then again Divine Ascension are a breathtaking proposition.
'The Reflective Red Sky' sets the hairs on the back of the neck standing to attention from the very start as Borg pulls out all the stops, accompanied by some superb keyboard work from Van Pelt, the song swelling to amagnificent instrumental crescendo as the guitars and drums carry the song home – marvellous stuff.
'The Final Stand' is heavier – there's an almost Megadethish feel to the rhythm guitars – but it too features another memorable – and memorably sung – chorus which you'll find lodges itself in the brain in short order once you've heard it. Once again the band's fine grasp of dynamics drives the song forward, never letting it settle when another peak can be reached. with Luke Winczel the principal ringmaster, propelling the band with some exceptional work behind the kit.
And then it happens. Just when you thought the band couldn't do anymore, with just two tracks left on the album, they play the joker. It's a confident band that delays the arrival of an albums best song until the penultimate track, but Divine Ascension would appear to be such a band. The song in question is 'Hideaway', and it's an absolute stormer.
Starting dramatically before hitting cruising speed early on, no time is wasted in getting into an absolutely titanic vocal melody from Borg before the utterly superb chorus gets those neck hairs working again. I've heard some superb power/prog Metal this year – much of it from Australia – but this song tops the lot. Spellbinding.
Which just leaves final track, 'Memoria's Longing'. Of course, after a song like 'Hideaway' there is a slight sense of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' about this one, but it's a fine song in its own right – we'd expect nothing less from this band, right?
Featuring an unadorned Borg singing beautifully against a lush acoustic backdrop and yet more of her deliciously soulful vocalising. It's a nice way to end such a bombastic album – an album you simply have to own.