Is it actually fair for me to be reviewing this album? I mean seriously? A melodic death/black metal band out of Munich, Germany? Personally, I don’t think a new release could be hyped any better than that. There is no chance in hell I could be unbiased about this record. Naturally, I had high expectations for the new, third full-length from Thulcandra—and I’ve gotta say: for the most part, Ascension Lost delivered in exactly the ways I wanted it to.
For those unaware, Thulcandra was founded some time ago by Steffen Kummerer, who you probably know more from Obscura than anything. Now, I love Obscura as much as anyone, but they’re pretty solidly in the technical death metal camp. Would some of those elements seep through here—either consciously or subconsciously? Good news! They didn’t. I mean, sure, you get some intricate solos on tracks like “Throne of Will” and “The Second Fall,” but that means next to nothing. This is clearly a separate project—and one that brings in everything I love about the black and death metal genres.
By now, you all know how much I enjoy bands like Immortal and Winterfylleth. Well right off the bat, Thulcandra serves up a similar blend of black metal with “The First Rebellion”—and it works really well. The song’s filled with a grandiose atmosphere of darkness and cold, enhanced by the occasional symphonic elements in the background—just enough to tease us with something new, but never enough to become cheesy, like Dimmu Borgir. Thulcandra just nails it.
This same black metal theme comes and goes throughout the album on tracks like “Deliverance of Sin and Death” and “Ascension Lost.” These songs are so dramatic, so big, and have so much passion. They’re everything I could have wanted in black metal. What really makes Ascension Lost interesting, though, are the songs that channel more of a melo-death sound—stuff like “Throne of Will” and “Sorrow of the One.” It’s not at the level where you’d mistake them for traditional, Gothenburg-style stuff, but that influence is a bit more pronounced. Either way, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It changes things up. And yes, in some cases, these tracks lack the power and emotion that some of their counterparts exude, but it’s forgivable. No matter how many stylistic change-ups the band throws at you over the course of the album, it all blends together so well. It stays cohesive all the way through and you never lose sight of their actual goal.
Appropriately, the album is virtually broken into two parts. “Interlude” is a brilliant, hollow, semi-muted instrumental that breaks up the combined ass-kick that is “Demigod Imprisoned”—which, by the way, is a goddamn earworm—and “Exalted Resistance.” It falls as close to the middle of the album as it could, providing a much needed breather.
But ultimately, this is a black metal album and these bookends show that better than anything, with all of the blast beats and tremolo picking we’d expect. These tracks showcase that style more forcefully than any other point on the album. No, nothing new is happening on this record. Thulcandra does not push any boundaries, and aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel. This may come across as a negative to many, but it really isn’t one when the style’s done this well. They know the sound they are going for and they get there. Maybe the more recognizable death metal sections aren’t as impressive, but it’s not fair to call them “weak points.” In all fairness, would Ascension Lost have kept my interest start to finish the way it did if these tracks didn’t exist? It’s a very real question, and one I cannot answer.
Don’t pick this up and expect to be impressed in the same way bands like Panopticon and Saor have done with their stylistic experimentation. That’s not what you’re going to get. You’re going to get an atmospheric black metal sound that’s heavy on melodic death metal influences. And it’s given to you in exactly the way you would hope. Like I said, I had high expectations for Ascension Lost, and I was not disappointed. This is an occasion good enough for me to break out my Hofbräuhaus beer stein. Prost!
“Ein Bier… bitte.”