Power metal! Love it or hate it, it’s easy to agree that there are very few bands who can justify its sound in 2019 without adding some sort of embellishment to it. For some, this addition comes in the form of progressive ideas and flourishes, making the music more complex. For yet others, like Atlanta’s Paladin, this means making power metal flirt with genres it has already been closely associated with, namely thrash and melodic death metal. The ties should be clear; both genres rely on fast playing, galloping riffs, and high pitched vocals, though each one of the three puts their own emphasis on different parts of those sounds. On Ascension, their debut full length, Paladin attempt to make those differences merge into one but do they succeed in making a cohesive album out of this attempt?
The answer is mostly yes but mostly on the thrash side of things. When Ascension is focused on playing fast, technical, moving music is when it shines the most. This is due to two main factors. The first, naturally, is the guitars. On Ascension, the main guitars enjoy both a flair for fast, technical playing and excellent composition, which leads to some pretty effective moments. On “Black Omen” for example, they open with a blazingly fast lead that wouldn’t put any neo-classical virtuoso to shame. Setting these faster, more flamboyant parts in contrast, the main riff is moving and anthemic, channeling the best from both thrash and power metal into one sing along, shred-along, powerful track. These antics are also backed by well produced bass which lends much needed flesh to the more treble heavy tones of the guitar.
However, the other major factor which stands out on Ascension are the drums. Whether they’re playing more standard backing rolls, galloping alongside the bass like on the aforementioned “Black Omen”, or playing more interesting fills and transitions, the drums on the album are both prominent and exactly where they need to be in the mix. The result is a thick sound which compliments any power/heavy metal band well, as Iron Maiden well understood back in the day. In general, the Maiden influences are strong on Ascension, shining through not only on the guitars (who’s more “open” riffs echo albums like Piece of Mind or Seventh Son of a Seventh Son) and the drums but also, naturally, on the vocals. Their cleaner timbre and high notes are very reminiscent of not only Dickinson but also Brazil’s Eduardo Falaschi (ex-Angra, Almah).
Up until now, we’ve discussed the power and thrash metal elements of the album while leaving melodeath out. While the melodeath influences also feature on some of the guitar parts on the album, channeling those more melodic and tight-knit riffs for which it’s known, they’re mostly present on the harsh vocals that are sprinkled through out the album. Unfortunately, these don’t work as well with the other sounds on the album and end up sounding out of place. Their execution is only one part of it; on the whole, they sound fine and when they’re the main/leading vocals for a track, like on “Bury the Light”, they work pretty well. But their place in the composition and the mix is awkward on most of the album, often feeling like an afterthought. Most of the opening tracks on the album contain them and, by the time you reach a stretch of clean-only tracks in its middle, their absence soon becomes refreshing.
At the end of the day, Paladin reached high for the starts with Ascension and mostly made it. The landing can be somewhat awkward at times, especially when the harsher elements drawn from the heavier spectrum of thrash and death metal are utilized, but for most of the album’s runtime, the attempt itself is very enjoyable. In the year 2019, when power and heavy metal aren’t exactly the most prolific of genres (except when considered in their “revival” phases, which are distinct from what we’re handling here) we should take our wins where we get them. Ascension, despite having some elements that don’t really coalesce, is such a win; it’s a fast, bright, technical album, filled with plenty of hooks, screams, and solos to get you excited. You just might have to look past some obvious flaws. Hopefully, as the band move forward, they learn how to incorporate everything a bit more smoothly into their impressive and ambitious vision.
Paladin’s Ascension sees release on the 17th of May. You can pre-order it via the band’s Bandcamp page, linked above.