Realms of the Metaphysical by Arc of Ascent

Release date: April 11, 2017
Label: Clostridium Records

You don’t have to hail from the stunning, sun-scorched Coachella Valley desert or to come up with a cosmically inspired stoner rock album. Dedicated listeners have learned from nigh on 30 years of the genre that there are sticky, deep riffs being cranked out in places from Gothenburg to Godalming. In fact there is a theory that it was because there was an utter absence of things to do in places like Palm Desert (as well as a decent supply of mild hallucinogens) that Kyuss and the like were inspected to crank out crushing riffery, rather than the influence of the natural environment.

This theory more than holds water for Arc of Ascent, who come from the New Zealand city of Hamilton. You see, Hamilton hasn’t got a lot going for it. I can speak from experience, I went to university there. It is dead in the middle of rich farming country. It has a relatively picturesque river running through it, an agricultural research facility which has produced some ground-breaking findings, a well designed skateboard park… and that is about it. We made our own fun, kids. We made our own fun.

And in spite (or because) of this, Arc of Ascent have produced an album full of excellently huge riffs and soaring vocals which would sit comfortably between Sleep’s Dopesmoker and Unida’s output.

I may be wrong about Arc of Ascent: they may spend their time roaming the nearby forests, or wandering the stark coastline about an hour’s drive from the city. But if I am right, they won’t be the first band to make something good of their existence in a nondescript town. This is the band’s third album, but the driving force behind the trio, bassist/vocalist/producer Craig Williamson, has been doing this sort of thing for decades. He was part of Datura, a Sabbath-worshipping outfit that started wrecking necks in the early 1990s. And after that band split up, he went fully cosmic, putting out good-quality soporific space rock – complete with sitar – under the name Lamp of the Universe. In fact his album from 2007 gave the name of his current band.

And you can hear a little influence from Williamson’s solo excursions in this album; the sitar pops up here and there, and the album’s epic nine-minute finale, ‘Temple Stone’, bears the fingerprints of a man who likes a spacey drone or two. But riffs are the reasons for this album’s existence – and great they are too. Sure, there isn’t too much in the way of innovation here, but what they lack in fancy tricks they more than make up for in thick, satisfying riffage, starting with ‘Set the Planets Free’, which also gives notice of Williamson’s vocal skills. The man has pipes.

‘Eye of Sages’ follows and again, in true Sleep tradition, it embarks on a big riff and never relents, for its entire seven-minute duration. It is at this point that a theme begins to emerge – this and other songs are spiritual in their lyrical make-up, in a wizardy, new-agey kind of way. They err just on the right side of cliched. Still, there are riffs to contend with – and ‘Hexagram’, the final song on side one, has a corker. But that even pales in the shadow of the following song, ‘In the Light’, which is the first of three tunes of greater scope than the opening trio. It is followed by ‘Benediction Moon’ which is, by a tiny increment, the fastest on the album. Which is like saying a John Deere tractor is more nippy than a bulldozer. And yes, it has a killer riff. It serves as an excellent warm-up for the aforementioned excellent finale.

Arc of Ascent certainly aren’t the first to put out a whole album of massive riffs accompanied by a very good vocalist singing lyrics with an eastern looking viewpoint. And they won’t be the last. But the fact they did – and did it very well – should be more than enough reason to buy this album. Do it and give Hamilton a claim to fame.

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