Originally written by Jordan Campbell
France’s Reverence, like many industrialized black metal acts, has premeptively corner-painted themselves with their chosen style. While the concept of black metal infused with industrial elements has always been intriguing on paper — hence the myriad blackwelding attempts over the course of the past decade-plus — few have actually meshed these disparate genres with significant success. The problem? The best black metal is raw, violent, and human. The industrial influences that many of these bands employ tend to be sleek, stoic, and alien. These two extremes emulsify into something tepid and lukewarm, save for the rare case such as The Work Which Transforms God.
Therein lies another hurdle for Reverence: A close kinship with Blut Aus Nord, with whom they’ve released splits in the past. The Asthenic Ascension, though far more straightforward, rides an undercurrent similar to that of the 777 trilogy; one can’t help but listen to this record without fighting the urge to dismiss the band as Blut Aus Nord Lite.
Though replete with mercury-slick time changes and challenging compositional twists, The Asthenic Ascension contains many too-familar moments. “Darwin’s Black Hall,” the album’s best track, opens with a raging riff that harkens back to the reign of “Stellar Master Elite” and closes with wistful leads mainlined from Memoria Vetusta II.
Later, after a few tracks that play out like the soundtrack to an over-budgeted, under-acted horror film, “Ghost of Dust” emerges with a flash of brilliance, manipulating the specter of Layne Staley for a crushing, gutter-opera coda. But the experimentation ends there, as the band slips back into a heavily-varnished coma for the remainder of the record.
That listlessness is somewhat tragic; Reverence‘s compositions are intricate and calculated, but almost to a fault. Tracks like “The Descent” and “Those Who Believe” fail to engage at a visceral level. The crucial sense of dread that they’re attempting to cultivate never materializes, As the record listlessly drifts on, the threat of a violent payoff becomes less and less likely. The most shocking thing on The Asthenic Ascension, unfortunately, is the sample of a crying woman that closes “Psalm IV.” (While indeed unsettling, we’ve all heard Shining before, dudes. I’d prefer to be moved by actual music.)
Maybe the unthreatening nature of The Asthenic Ascension is actually a strength; this is a safe alternative for those that find Blut Aus Nord‘s progressive fuckery to be too wild, too left-field. It’s a tidy little repackinging of BAN‘s notable elements into a palatable, conservative score. That may hold some appeal for some, but if you’re seeking out black metal that’s notable for ease of access, you’re probably doing it wrong. One could argue that Reverence might be, too.