Cult Series Day 3: Reverence blow up boundaries on ‘The Asthenic Ascension’

I have said this four billion times before on these pages, but when I get new metal from any French band, I expect total weirdness. That probably isn’t fair, as I’m sure not every band in France is destroying perimeters and redefining genres, but it sure seems like most of what I hear from that country is at all-out war with the conventional.

The most popular French metal band, at least here in the States, is Gojira, and even with them being on a fairly mainstream-oriented label and touring with mundane bands, they still push boundaries most heavily embraced bands adopt and to which they chain themselves. Then you have way-out-there black metal experimentalists such as Deathspell Omega, Glorior Belli, and Blut Aus Nord (wait until you hear their new one … be ready to be surprised), bands that require you to forget what you know about metal and the groups themselves because structure constantly is being burned to the ground.

That brings us to Reverence and their new album “The Asthenic Ascension,” the follow-up to 2009’s “Inactive Theocracy” and fourth full-length overall. This album is a part of Candlelight Records’ Cult Series that we’ve covered all week, also including Khors and Wodensthrone, and theirs is the most unpredictable of the three. As time has gone on, Reverence has gone from pure black metal to more of an industrial black style, and at times, with clean crooning from singer/guitarist I Luciferia (likely not his given name …), they even feel a bit gothic from time to time.

Reverence also strike a balance between France’s outright bizarre metal offerings and their more digestible ones. They do have stretches on their new album where I feel like I’m caught in a dark vortex of noise and nausea that’s actually more exciting than painful, but they also follow up later with stuff that’s easier to handle, quite melodic, and that can give listeners a chance to sing back with the band. I still, at times, I have a hard time fully getting behind Luciferia’s monotone clean warbling, though I admit it does serve the tempo and atmosphere of the music. I think it’s more of a personal preference than anything, so maybe you’ll feel differently.

Right away, Reverence work to develop a sleepy atmosphere with the orchestral synth that opens “Earth,” but it’s a red herring as tricky riffing, a harsh/clean vocal hybrid, and what sounds like choral backing enter the fray and make things really active and confusing. “Darwin’s Black Hall” picks up from there and manages to pull this album into a terrifying realm, with fast and weird tempos, prog-minded, spaced-out stuff, some guitar work that sounds like Gojira, and all-out weirdness that is completely enveloping and impossible to ignore. It’s my favorite song on the record by far. “The Descent” keeps things muddy and chugging, as the band cuts loose and punches its way through the fog, coming out on the other end with the first hints of Luciferia’s cleaner warbling, sheets of synth, and some grit and ugliness. “Psalm IV” begins to hint at where the second half of the record is heading, that being away from the harsh and toward the gothic sickness.

“Ghost of Dust” is the one track that didn’t do much for me. The singing is swaggering, which in this case didn’t feel right, and the cleaner tones hit a little strangely. Much as I’ve tried, I can’t get with this cut. “Cold Room” is a step in the right direction, with some crunch coming back into the picture and Luciferia doing his best Mike Patton deranged wailing. “Genesis of Everything” is a synth-based interlude that pulls into “Those Who Believed,” the most warped song on the collection, where melody meets total psychological madness. The title track finale is the longest on the record, clocking in at nearly 9 minutes, and it acts as a diatribe smeared across outer space, with more bizarre howling, spooky keyboards, trance-inducing guitar lines, and carnage.

Out of the three Cult Series releases, I’d place this third favorite on my list. But that’s wholly based on my preferences and not the quality of the music. Reverence really bring it when it comes to psychological damage and non-traditional thinking, and I’m sure there will be many listeners who find “The Asthenic Ascension” the freshest, most exciting of this series. I’m going to keep working on the edges I found a little rough, and I’m sure each time back I’ll find something new to totally freak me out.

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