Amiensus are a relatively young band hailing from the USA – young especially with regard to the age of the band members, who were mostly born in the early to mid-90s, which means that they were in their late teens when they formed Amiensus. Sure, this mere factum isn’t something extraordinary, so why am I mentioning their age? – Simply because of the incredible level of musicianship, songwriting skills and overall maturity that the band displays on their second full-length album. This maturity was already indicated on their previous full-length, Restoration, but it is obvious that they further developed these skills within the two and a half years that passed between the release dates of these records.
This band was unknown to me until the second half 2015, when I accidentally saw that Arsafes, known amongst others for his involvements in Kartikeya, Nevid, and his self-titled project, advertised them via social media and actually did the mixing and mastering of this record. This got me intrigued, so I decided to give the album a listen – what a lucky decision!
Stylistically Amiensus play an amalgamation of a variety of different styles, ranging from black and death metal of a more progressive symphonic kind to dark metal with certain folk and (post)rock influences. All in all, I’d label them as progressive symphonic black/dark metal. But this could mean a lot of things, doesn’t it? So let’s try to describe in particular how Amiensus sound.
The sound on Ascension is great, powerful, and massive, everything is audible, and each instrument can be followed for the whole duration of the album. I imagine achieving this was a hard job, as there are a lot of facets and layers present in most of the songs. Arsafes did an amazing job in putting them into place, giving this album its unique and very professional sound.
The most striking characteristic of the album are the vocals, which were contributed by almost all of the members. There are black metal screams and death metal growls of different pitch present in almost every song, which are emotional and fit the different styles extraordinarily well, contributing massively to the atmosphere. The same applies to the clean vocals, which are mostly performed in baritone range, sometimes standing alone in the musical landscape, sometimes arranged in choirs, often interacting with and counterbalancing the harsh vocals. This certainly adds to the epic, symphonic character of the music.
The guitar work is outstanding as well. The riffs are very precisely played and the guitar sound fits the different styles very well. As the music mostly is of melodic nature, the lead guitars play an important role in creating the atmosphere, while the rhythm guitars in interaction with the accentuated and well-executed drumming and bass do what they are supposed to do: build up the basis for everything, while also being responsible for several highlights. There are many calmer parts with emotional clean guitars as well as a bunch of great soli. The keyboard plays an important role as it does not only enhance the symphonic character, but sometimes it even pushes to the front and assumes a leading role. In general, Amiensus know very well how to build up and release tension, which makes this album so outstanding. A huge spectrum of different emotions is set into tune in a way that younger bands seldom achieve. Be it the raging black metal parts or the dreamy soundscapes with clean guitars and a certain post-rock feeling, every detail appears to be well-devised, displaying the meticulous work these guys are able to do, which borders perfectionism.
The lyrics are also worth following, which is something of huge importance to me. They are personal, but with a certain level of abstraction that reflects my own lyrical approach to this kind of music. Mostly, they deal with philosophical and theological questions, mirroring the protagonists’ search for knowledge, for the self, for truth. Most remarkably, Amiensus manage to treat these subjects in a very authentic way, which is where many bands with similar lyrical themes fail. I guess this is one of the reasons why this album appeals to me so much. Another crucial aspect is the rhythmical variation, especially the six-eighth time that they frequently use, as I personally consider odd time signatures to mirror life in a more appropriate way – and as they resonate more with myself.
It is hard to give some musical references for this kind of music, which is somewhat unique at least to me. Other reviewers have mentioned Agalloch, especially referring to their more folk-influenced passages on their previous album. I am sometimes reminded of early Dornenreich and early Empyrium with regard to the calmer and folkier parts and the clean vocals, while October Falls come to mind during the dark metal soundscapes. Symphonic black metal acts like Dimmu Borgir might serve as a reference, too. Additionally, I had to think of Klabautamann several times, specifically of their first two albums, although Amiensus’ approach is slightly straighter.
Last but not least, even though I really love this album, I have some critical remarks. First, the clean vocals sometimes sound a little bit too adjusted for my taste, so I’d recommend being careful not to become too nu-metal. Secondly, although there are some really ugly passages on this album, the harmonic, symphonic approach leaves not much room for rough edges. The album is homogeneous in a good way, but when the band continues their remarkable development, I fear that their music might get more predictable, or even cheesy, so I suggest keeping this in mind, although I imagine it difficult to continuously walk this borderline of styles whilst maintaining it as authentic as they did up to now.
But listen for yourself!
(This review also has been published in German for www.stormbringer.at)