Album Review: Ascended Master - What Was ...And What Shall Be Again

Ascended Master are a new death metal band out of Ohio, USA. They’re a brilliant new passion project by Cody Knarr (ex-Faithxtractor, ex-Unkured), who is responsible for the vocals, guitars, bass, and the band logo. He’s worked alongside David Woest (tracks 1-3), and Luke Sackenheim (tracks 4-5), who both co-wrote the album. This is a review of their 2020 debut demo, What Was …And What Shall Be Again.

I had seen Cody perform multiple times with the death metal band Faithxtractor, and one of the highlights of those performances was always Cody’s melodic lead guitar playing. Thankfully, Ascended Master puts that guitar playing at forefront, giving the project its unique sound. Cody’s vocals remind of late-era Chuck Schuldiner, which immediately gives this demo a nostalgic feel. Some songs even have moments that could easily have made sense on The Sound of Perseverance, such as throughout the title track. That isn’t to say that this is merely Death homage, which wouldn’t be accurate at all, since aside from a few moments where it is easy to detect Death as an influence, the music overall doesn’t sound like Death. This release is heavy, thrashy, and sometimes avant-garde, but the two focal points are unmistakably the melodic riffs and the vocals. There are also plenty of other influences to note, as ‘To Behold Infinity’ begins with beautiful softer passage before going into a riff that wouldn’t be out of place on a NWOBHM album.

The sound quality on this is also great due to an excellent mixing job by Luke Sackenheim, who also mixed Faithxtractor’s 2018 release, Proverbial Lambs to the Ultimate Slaughter. The risk for more melodic bands like this is that they often opt for an over-polished, sterile mix. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here. Every instrument is clear, but also raw enough to not feel sterile. The drums in particular have some punch to them that gives this demo a more live feel. I’m also a sucker for audible bass, which is prominent throughout.

The album cover by Gillean Dublow has an old-school feel, with a layout that is frequently used nowadays, such as on the similarly excellent debut that came out this year from Spain’s Leprophiliac, however whereas Leprophiliac used a graphic photo, Gillean has used a hand-drawn art style depicting melting faces that reminds me of the original artwork for Deeds of Flesh’s Gradually Melted crossed with Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness.

There isn’t much to the packaging for the CD version of Ascended Master’s demo, but what is included is crisp. There are no lyrics included, however a quote on the back of the cover insert from the title track indicates that the lyrics are thoughtful and avoid death metal clichés.

My highest praise about What Was… And What Shall Be Again is that in an era of metal that is oversaturated with bands focused on imitation, Ascended Master manages to sound refreshingly new, as they funnel a wide array of influences into a unique concoction that might wear its influences on its sleeve, but it doesn’t sound like them.  The longevity of these songs is dependent on the stellar songwriting instead of coasting on nostalgia. Cody’s unique and often beautiful guitarwork pairs so well with his Schuldiner-esque vocals, and I greatly look forward to hearing more from Ascended Master as a result. 

Check them out here:

Author: Kyle Messick

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