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Yes - Keys to Ascension  CD (album) cover

KEYS TO ASCENSION

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

4.11 | 371 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Yes: Keys to Ascension [1996]

Rating: 9/10

Keys to Ascension is an absolutely magnificent return to Yes's glory days. This is the first album in eighteen years to feature the band's signature lineup of Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, and White; it finally showed Yes shedding 80s pop-rock drudgery and truly returning to their progressive rock sound. Thus, Keys to Ascension (as well as its sequel) is a double-layered musical statement: both a return to form and a step forward. The album accomplishes this by including both live performances of 70s songs and new studio material.

The live tracks here constitute one of the greatest live albums ever. Every song is extraordinarily well-recorded. Each instrument is apparent and balanced perfectly within the mix; the recording manages a distinct live sound while avoiding gruff background noise and crowd-cheering. The songs are expertly performed with passion and soul. In fact, many of these renditions come close to exceeding the studio originals. Particularly notable in this regard is the fantastic cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "America", an extended eighteen-minute version of "Awaken", and a gorgeous rendition of "Onward" with beautiful classical guitar from Howe. The greatest highlight, however, is an absolutely jaw-dropping extended "Starship Trooper" that manages to soar above the song's original recording. The added keyboard solo at the end ranks among one of my favorites of all time, and Howe's guitar work is nothing short of incredible.

The two studio tracks are epics in their own right. "Be the One" is an uplifting song with soaring guitar and keyboard lines. Anderson sounds wonderful here. The nineteen-minute "That That Is" opens with an extended classically-influenced section centered upon Howe's acoustic work. This section transitions into a fairly heavy segment with atypical lyrics about drug abuse. Lighter sections follow, with excellent vocal work and emotional piano playing. Squire and Howe play off each other particularly well during the song's conclusion.

While the original material is quite excellent, it doesn't come close to the flawless live performances. This doesn't stop Keys to Ascension from being a masterpiece, though. This album truly captures the magic present when these five musicians play together, and it contains all of the spirit and musicianship that make Yes such an incredible band.

Anthony H. | 5/5 |

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