Originally written by K. Scott Ross.
Oftentimes, a great way to make a new and exciting thing is to take two existing exciting things and put them together. Ground beef, good; sliced cheese, good. Cheeseburger? Fucking fantastic. Within the heavy metal world, we have a number of styles that often get put together in this way, and like cheeseburgers, their ubiquity doesn’t make them any less appealing. Death metal and doom; great combination. Black metal and thrash; better combination. Some combinations you see a lot less frequently, however, and it isn’t necessarily because they’re bad; they’re just more difficult. You can get a halfway decent burger at any pub. A bear meat steak, though? That’s a specialty item. “Melodic black metal” feels like one of those speciality dishes. It’s not so much rarer than blackened thrash because it’s so inferior; it’s just a lot more difficult to pull off well.
When one thinks of melodic black metal, there are basically two bands that come to mind: Sweden’s Naglfar, and Germany’s Dark Fortress. It doesn’t take much to argue that neither of those bands would exist without Storm of the Light’s Bane, so one could throw Dissection into the discussion as well, but even allowing that monumental album, the pool is quite shallow. In 2008, Thulcandra (also hailing from Germany) decided to throw their hat into the ring. Ascension Lost is their third album, following releases in 2010 and 2011, neither of which this critic has heard.
Let’s be honest here. Thulcandra sounds like Dark Fortress. They even share a drummer, although after the recording of Ascension Lost, Seraph left the band. The other three members of the group are also no strangers to the German extreme metal scene either. Guitarist/vocalist and band founder Steffen Kummerer is best known as the guitarist and vocalist for tech-death extraordinaires Obscura. On second guitar and bass are the Brothers Ludwig (Sebastian and Tobias, respectively), who Kummerer briefly played with in the delightfully named Helfahrt (go ahead and call me juvenile; the comments section is open), and also play in a band called Wraithcult.
Ascension Lost isn’t strictly a horrible album, it’s just a dull one. There’s nothing memorable about it. “The First Rebellion,” the album opener, is 7:20, and is thankfully the only song to crack the six minute mark, but while the entire album only lasts forty-six minutes, it feels like it takes over an hour, and as soon as a song is over, I can’t remember a thing about it. Whether they’re trying Amorphis-style melodies, such as on “Deliverance in Sin and Death” or full-out blasting like on “Demigod Imprisoned,” nothing sticks. What’s the point of “melody” if it’s not memorable? Nobody would accuse Mayhem of being “melodic,” but I can sing the riffs from “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” in my sleep. Even Dark Fortress struggles with the problem of forgetability, though; try to recall from memory anything off of Eidolon. Shoving “melodies” into black metal without a damn good reason is pointless.
If you happen to be a big fan of the Dark Fortress-style of metal, perhaps you would enjoy Ascension Lost. But for this critic, it just goes in one ear and out the other. Without a good hook like the seething eroticism of Dark Fortress’s Venereal Dawn or the irresistible energy of Naglfar’s Pariah, I’d rather stick to the simple riffs-and-Satan recipe. A cheeseburger might be a simple meal, but goddamn if I don’t keep enjoying them.