Ascension is a fairly young band-you can hear it in their playing. Almost immediately, I got the same vibe from this album as I did from Sonata Arctica’s Ecliptica (so it’s no surprise that I like this too), and that’s pure, unadulterated power metal energy. Granted, Ascension goes about their business in a fairly different manner than the Finns ever did, preferring to front their assault with a twin-guitar attack rather than noodle around with keyboards, harpsichords, and what have you. Now, I’m as big of a fan of the Stratovarius method of power metal as anyone (well, maybe not ANYONE, but I like it), but the music on Far Beyond the Stars is certainly not without charms of its own. The lack of a real electronic presence means that there are riffs-yes, RIFFS!-heavily rooted in speed metal territory. Make no mistake about it; Ascension is just as adept at kicking your ass as they are at riding unicorns and slaying dragons (or whatever power metal cliché you wish).
Still, while this album isn’t a total cheesefest, the majority of the over-the-top power metal mannerisms that you’re bound to be sick of by now are here in abundance. Most of the songs are fast-paced, built on guitar harmonies that border on Maiden territory, and frequently break into melodic choruses that feature plenty of crotch-grabbing vocal moments from singer Richard Carnie (the dude can WAIL). Double bass drum patterns are used extensively, and the lyrics aren’t exactly gospel to anyone who’s familiar with the genre (freedom, self-empowerment; all of that good stuff).
In the end, though, I have to give it to Ascension; these guys have taken a formula that’s been beaten to death, beat it some more, and spit out a debut album that’s just plain enjoyable as all get out. Not once while listening to Far Beyond the Stars did I think “gosh, this sounds an awful lot like bands X, Y, and Z;” rather, my reaction was more along the lines of “If I was in a power metal band, this is EXACTLY what I’d want it to sound like”. Why? Because it has good songs! This album is simply full of great, catchy tunes that will go in one ear and stay there right from listen number one. It’s an album that just pounds you with energy from the get-go and doesn’t let up, while remaining plenty interesting to hold anyone’s attention through multiple plays in a row.
This isn’t luck, either. Ascension is clearly just good at writing catchy material. Part of this goes back to the overall energetic nature of the band; after all, that’s what should be expected from a power metal album, and it’s something that Far Beyond the Stars delivers in spades. Yes, there’s a lot of double bass, but the patterns played scream creativity and enthusiasm; they’re an actual boost to the songs instead of something that’s been thrown in there because this is power metal and that’s just what happens. In the big picture, though, Ascension obviously has a very clear vision of what they want to play, and they go out and play it with conviction. That’s really all you can ask for from an up-and-coming band, and sometimes it’ll yield some pretty impressive results too. This is definitely one of those examples; Far Beyond the Stars is one of the best power metal albums I’ve heard in a very long time, and is one more brilliant example of how songwriting is the great trump card.