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AsZension: Portals

An instrumental progressive duo from Canada, AsZension look to fuse metal with prog via 'ambient space music and exotic ethnic soundscapes' - which I think is shorthand for they have a lot of keyboards. However they have guitars too and it's the keen joining of these two aspects that really finds the pair of Calvin Shiu and Kevin Thiessen shaping their sound.

While AsZension do have the 'riff' in their vocabulary, there's little doubt that from all the factors this outfit are looking to present, it's the metal (especially in the modern sense of the genre) that's hardest to locate. The lengthy "Spectral Dynasty Pt I-III" certainly contains some captivating chord strikes and yet it's the sounds of harp and constant little squiggles of guitar that build the atmosphere. That ability to construct vast swathes of sound is the real strength of the band's third album, Portals. "Metamorphosis" does offer some more obvious guitar led themes and yet here again it is dancing keyboards that take centre stage, the main synth themes often used in place of a vocal line to keep the focus.

An Oriental air is revealed in the patient lightness of touch brought about through "Transmigration", however it also possibly shows the album's main weakness, in that similar structures are often adhered to from track to track, meaning the album certainly flows but it can lack for some real individual punchy moments. Still, the almost ambient/Vangelis of the title track breaks the mould, the guitars less staccato, while the organ work remains as expansive as elsewhere. There's also a more enigmatic, grandiose air brought into play for the first time.

Oddly the album's 'bonus' track, "Another Night' reveals unexpected vocals and as such feels suitably removed from the main album, while you certainly couldn't mistake it for someone else. That said, the more expected structure - still including a lengthy instrumental section - brings a more obvious 70s prog side than before.

It's impossible to suggest that AsZension are breaking down genre boundaries, or massively stretching prog's framework and yet, attempting to find a band to make a strong comparison to for this duo is reassuringly difficult. Something that might not make Portals your favourite album ever, but neither is it ever less than entertaining or intriguing.

Track Listing
1. Metamorphosis
2. Astral Projection
3. Hidden Dimensions
4. Spectral Dynasty I - III
I. Convergence
II. Timelapse
III. Viewpoint
5. Transmigration
6. Portals
7. Another Night (Bonus Track)

Added: November 29th 2016
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: AsZension online
Hits: 1088
Language: english

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