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The Inner Road - Ascension CD (album) cover

ASCENSION

The Inner Road

 

Symphonic Prog

3.81 | 106 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars "Ascension" is The Inner Road's second album, coming quite rapidly on the heels of 2011's remarkable "Visions", an instrumental symphonic masterpiece that garnered rave reviews worldwide, yours truly included, in total rapture. As is always the case with momentous albums, how do you get it done again without falling into repetitive formula yet still keeping the creative spirit alive and well? On this stunning sophomore release, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Steve Gresswell has joined up with guitarist Jay Parmar, whose style differs greatly from previous fret colleague Phil Braithwaite's more Latimer-esque elegance, preferring a distinctly obvious oriental style, infused with dazzling harder sizzles recalling axe maestros Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. As much as Visions was way more pastoral, almost Anthony Phillips ?like, this new album is positively bursting at the seams with razor sharp , sledgehammer riffs that have a palpable Andalucian feel, the Moorish tinges are frequent and ultimately very satisfying. A new direction with even more accomplished symphonics is a laudable adventure and rewards the demanding audiophile with unlimited bliss. While preferring real drums to the programmed variety, it must be said that the mechanical beat box is well crafted and does not diminish in any way the eloquent music being presented.

The title track wastes little time in beginning the climb , as it has that seductive combination of grandiose and bombastic, loaded with huge instrumentation showcasing Gresswell's arranging talents, as well as providing some sensational piano and synthesizer work. Parmar is unafraid to rock hard and fast, choirs ablaze in the background. There is a definite celestial quality that fits the "Ascension" theme perfectly, a potent feeling of delightful exploration. "The Steel Sky" as the title implies has a dual tinge of harsh and delicate, a beauty and the beast syndrome that is ultimately a hallmark idiosyncrasy of classic progressive design. Bulldozer riffs, slippery synths, rollicking bass and swerving, screeching melodies. The whole bullied by some steamroller double bass drum programming in order to keep the pot boiling. "Two Worlds, Two Tomorrows" throws in some backing mellotron samples, a direct main melody that scours the soul , giving Parmar a solo spotlight to demonstrate his considerable skills, whilst bathed by Gresswell's glittering arrangement complete with soft synth lines and a breezy little section that gives even more room for reflection. "Altered Reality" has a distinctive bluesy feel, as Jay explodes over the symphonic arrangement laid down by Steve's lush orchestrations with a rowdy and exuberant growl that will please axe fiends of every persuasion. The programmed drumming is as expert as on Visions, never sounding too mechanical but the real clincher is the use of a brief massive choir work imbued with Oldfieldian grace and elegance. This is the definition of "beautiful", yet bold, passionate and offering up crisp contrasts to keep the listener on edge, palpitating! "Troubled Memories" continues in the same magnificent vein, bristling notes amid a sizzling mood, the exotic lead guitar line carving out a dreamy cycle of sound, pushed along by some mighty bass pummeling, drums akimbo and synths curtaining the stage. There is a slight feeling of dread, anguish and despair that is utterly palpable, showing the musicians predilection for emotive expression. It's not just overt "chopzilla" but songs with moody depth. I admit being a total sucker for this kind of instrumental genius and I do kneel at the shrine! "A Fleeting Dream" further consolidates the wealth of sounds displayed on the album, abounding in trembling fret distortion that tickles the senses, the instrumental prowess is truly remarkable. While technically demanding, the guitar soloing displays a spirit of continued adventurism that keeps the listener with bated breath, never quite knowing where the next flurry of notes will travel to. Parmar squeezes out all kinds of cat meows and rivet- popping phrasings from his emboldened instrument. The tremendous "The Awakening" has a slight electronica feel, pinging synths and ponging guitar phrasings both with undisputed authority, bathed in a complex swath of sound, a delicious tinge of dissonance giving the piece an organic feel. Those subtle choir-like effects only add drama and arousal to the mix, suave little details that makes the music breathe and exalt. The final section reverts to the mechanical synthesizer monolith and provides the platform for some juicier soloing, Parmar torturing his instrument with delirious glee. Fabulous track! The epic 10 minute+ "Flight through Eternity" ends this marvel with even more daring, as Parmar provides some unexpected sitar-like allusions amid his axe ramble, a quirky little detail that only serves to highlight the creativity behind the band's philosophy. The lengthy guitar solo is sensational, a bluesy performance that is ultra-cool, not only technically dazzling but also emotionally adept at pushing those hard to reach buttons.

Just like the preceding 'Visions', The Inner Road have crafted another memorable progressive avenue of instrumental splendor, full of playful exploits and dreamy atmospherics. This time the mood was more animalistic and impulsive, creatively aggressive and sonically impressive. I cannot fathom anyone not being impressed with this dream work, I daresay even our prog-metalloid cousins would enjoy this immensely and intensely. Certainly Symph fans but also guitar fan boys will rise to the applause! Of course, the artwork is spectacular once again, offering up a prog collector's fantasy of audio and visual art forms.

5 Elevators

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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