Album Review: Cromlech - Ascent of Kings
Reviewed by Sam Jones
It’s time for something a little different, a sort of palette cleanser. Here we have Cromlech’s second album, not to mention their first release in a full decade: Ascent Of Kings. Formed in 2011, Cromlech were originally pretty hot out of the gate releasing a Demo and Split the gear after, followed by their first full length work, Ave Mortis, by 2013. It’s curious to note though that Cromlech never broke up at any point since then, they simply became inactive for long stretches of time; that can be an unfortunate case for a modern band these days. Their Iron Guard EP wouldn’t be released until 2017 and another Split, Hammer Of Triumph, a year later but then everything went quiet for some time. Only now, in 2023, have the gears finally revved back with life in preparation for Ascent Of Kings. With ten years separating their two studio records, I was most curious to see what Cromlech could provide for us.
With tracks these lengthy, Cromlech evidently knew they couldn’t just unleash a tidal barrage of songwriting and might upon us at all times. It’s why they’ve propagated their songwriting with sections that take their time, whether it be these baritone vocal deliveries that bellow into the distance or riff sequences that don’t progress the songwriting too much yet keep us entertained and engaged with everything that is happening. When tracks can range from nine to nineteen minutes long, the band feasibly cannot keep a songwriting’s progression going all the time unless they employ clever tactics to prevent fans from feeling like a track is never ending. It’s why I had no issue at all with what some may call “filler” material; the structure of their songwriting and approach to riffs herein results in numerous phases of certain songs where the band do just throw segments of instrumentation at us. But it’s been done whereby we understand these pieces are continuously being bound together as the band dip back into the main crux of the track we’re listening to. The band may stretch out their songwriting, but your attention never does so.
I do appreciate though the band’s insistence on an epic feel to their sound without shoving it down our throats. Again, with tracks this lengthy anyone versed in epic heavy metal could note how the band are venturing for a grander scale than your rudimentary counterpart. Now, I’ve heard bands attempt this angle many a time and often it comes off as deeply superfluous and unnecessary after a time; it can be easy to go ham on it and deliver far too much which, in turn, dramatically lessens the audience’s desire to keep listening since the band may exhaust themselves after the first two or so tracks. That’s why I like Cromlech’s approach to their style of writing, you only have to listen to them play to know what they’re about, but they aren’t vying to throw everything including the kitchen sink at you within the first track. In laymen’s terms, Cromlech understand when to put the brakes on and to simply let the songwriting breathe without having to constantly inject an epic sensibility into their performance.
Vocally, Cromlech is precisely what I expected to hear. When we think of epic heavy metal, high-pit he’d performances aren’t the norm, it’s the baritone and deeper deliveries that often feel more at home with songwriting such as this. Additionally, the application of a baritone performance gives Cromlech a much more storied and wizened approach to their identity; it’s less a glorious victory recently attained and more akin to an elder reciting bygone histories from dusty tomes. In this manner, Cromlech differ from many epic-aspiring acts and none more so than the tempo by which their vocals are delivered at. The instrumentation may be moving at speed and progressing to the next sequence, yet the vocals maintain a consistent and well established pace, at least for the most part. There are occasions where, coupled with more intense riff playing, the more abrasive form of vocals will assume centre stage but these pieces are brief before Cromlech revert to their standard baritone bellowing. The use of this dual-vocal performance makes for a fluid dynamic whereby Cromlech can interchange vocals pending on what the songwriting requires.
It must be stated just how well paced Ascent Of Kings really is. It can’t be understated how long this record may feel at times. It’s well over an hour long and split up only into six tracks, three of which are over ten minutes long, yet at no time did I believe the band were overdoing themselves throughout any particular sequence of this record. Between those filler sections that naturally open back onto the main progression of the track in question, the vocals that bellow and dive all the while maintaining a steady momentum, and an understanding of when to pump extra power into their epic nature and when to relax appropriately, Cromlech crafted a record that makes massive songs feel as approachable as any thirty second piece. The band really know how to take you along for a journey without hindering yourself or your senses.
In conclusion, Cromlech’s Ascent Of Kings is a wondrous record that will keep you enthralled and entranced in everything they look to do within. It’d all the more prevalent when we remember this is the band’s first album in ten years; it’s less a follow up and more a rebirth for Cromlech as they seek to reenergise their fanbase with fresh material. But for many, including myself, this will be their debut listen to Cromlech’s material and so the band still needed to do their utmost to render Ascent Of Kings as enjoyable a listen as they could, and on that note I say they thoroughly succeeded. Well over an hour long, Ascent Of Kings could have become a bore not even halfway through its runtime had the songwriting been of a lesser calibre. The band firmly knew this and therefore provided moments of levity, periods of intense delivery and epic heavy metal that understands its limits. The band’s capacity for pacing is absolutely spot on, giving near twenty minute long tracks all the ease of listening a two minute piece would possess. By the album’s end you’ll feel as if this grand journey is done yet know you could endure something of that length all over again, such was the experience had. Ascent Of Kings is a grand time to be had.