Sometimes, to my surprise, Facebook can be on point with its music recommendations and advertisements. I happened upon this long-awaited new album from Ascension of the Watchers, and I instantly loved what I heard. The new album is called “Apocrypha”, a rather haunting name, and it releases on October 6th.
Ascension of the Watchers is a project from Burton C. Bell (ex-Fear Factory) on vocals and guitar, John Bechdel (Ministry, ex-Fear Factory, Killing Joke) on keyboards, and newcomer to the band Jayce Lewis on drums, backing vocals, and programming. The band originally released a debut back in 2008, so this sophomore effort has been over a decade in the making. After Burton’s recent severing of his Fear Factory relationship, this appears to be his primary focus, and that is probably for the best.
The musical journey through which this project navigates is rather murky. You will hear alternative rock, that is for sure, but also industrial, electronic, ambient, and Gothic. There is a sense of sacred foreboding that hangs like a leery mist around each and every note, possibly because keys are often the driving factor. Lingering, mysterious, and deeply meaningful, the music takes me away to places that are unknown.
These feelings are not an accident. Burton dove down the rabbit hole of misty composition on purpose. Many of the lyrics carry the same message about the ambiguities of this life, and much of it feels like it is written from a towering perspective, as if the Watchers are seeing our pain and loss, our love and triumph, and our conflicting feelings, and weeping and rejoicing along with us. It’s an interesting atmosphere, both lyrically and musically, and it possesses an alluring hypnosis that keeps me coming back for more.
“Apocrypha” is a solid album. Burton’s voice is almost always in the lower register, which can sometimes make me feel like I want him to bump it up a couple of octaves. I think a few of the songs could have benefited from that sort of explosion of light and power. However, I also understand not wanting to break the eerie aura that the band worked so hard to create. Because of this, some of the songs create conflicting reactions within me, and I find that really interesting to experience.
One of the strengths of this record is the ambient side it owns. Songs like the title track, “A Wolf Interlude”, “Stormcrow” (the original title for this album), and “Key to the Cosmos” have extended, lingering atmospheres that sound amazing. The band achieves this in various ways, from mournful guitars to purposeful keyboard melodies to finely tuned programming. The instrumental “Stormcrow”, for example, is abstract, grey, and absolutely riveting. “Key to the Cosmos” carries this same magnetism, creating transcendent, ethereal spaces right up against rock signatures. I love all four of these songs.
There are plenty of more straightforward tracks, too. The two singles, “Ghost Heart” and “The End is Always the Beginning” are strong, and I especially cannot stop humming the chorus to the former. There is a strangeness and a mystery that hangs about those songs, and I can hear it on other tracks, too, like the lumbering power of “Cygnus Aeon” (one of the best tracks on the album) or the uncanny wonder of “Wanderers”, a nostalgic and hopeful song about the human condition.
I do have to admit, however, that there is one song I simply do not like. I can’t seem to connect with “Honoree”. This song has a heavy vocal filter in play, which isn’t itself a bad thing, but the melody is affected by it, and there just isn’t much else to grasp for me. I do appreciate the band trying something wildly outside the box, but it might take some time for my mind to like it.
Ascension of the Watchers is every bit the peculiar, beautiful, and diverse release I hoped it would be. I love the hazy abstractions employed, just as much as I love the alternative and rock passages. There is an undeniable sense of meaning, philosophy, introspection, and emotion that pervades the entire experience and that is definitely something I appreciate. With Burton free to work on this project, I am hoping that we will hear more from it sooner rather than later.
Find AotW online: