by Niklas Göransson
Ten years ago, to the day, German black metal band Ascension released their debut album, Consolamentum. To commemorate both the anniversary and recent vinyl reissue, we look back upon the time of its creation.
– The early days of ASCENSION, from the conception in 2007 until “Consolamentum” three years later, were certainly unique in many ways. Although somehow linked by the local scene, we all came from different backgrounds and didn’t know any of the others very well. Where we found common ground was in our thirst for something new, driven by the hunger of old. In hindsight, I believe everyone had been looking for something they wanted to express even before ASCENSION. There was a shared passion for a distinct form of darkness – as manifested in a number of classic metal records, books, and paintings – that all of us had been independently drawn to. The band finally gave us the opportunity to combine and share those influences, and ASCENSION soon turned into a beast. The demo, EP, and album were written in no time, at least by today’s standards. It truly was as if we had something inside craving to get out. Even after all these years, it’s still interesting to consider how easy it was for five individuals to submit before one and the same cause and set things in motion.
Prior to the interview, I was told that the early rehearsals had an air of ‘Aufbruchstimmung’ – a term which literally translates to ‘spirit of optimism’.
– Looking at the English translation, ‘Aufbruchstimmung’ might not be the right term after all – there were no ‘positive’ sensations to speak of, at least not for me. What I rather meant was a feeling of having the world in our hands, a realisation that we possess the power of transformation. At the same time, we had a sense that all of this was far greater than us and that we really were on the cusp of something. It wasn’t so much conscious ‘work’ as it was interpreting the ripples of energy surging through us. Perhaps it’s a common occurrence for bands to experience such phenomena during their formative years? I don’t know. But we weren’t teenagers any longer; we were wholeheartedly focused on the task at hand and tried to keep the distractions to a minimum. It’s interesting to note that we find ourselves in a similar state right now, as the work on our new material continues. Anyway, I look back on the “Consolamentum” rehearsals as some of the best days of my life… all the scents, the candles, the noise, and the darkness within as well as without. Great memories. I also recall some sense of realisation of our true potential emerging at an early stage of the writing process, when we finished the song “Fire and Faith”. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still one of our strongest tracks: the essence of our sound at the time laid bare before us.
Had you come to an agreement to try out something like this, or was it a natural development?
– “Consolamentum” was always meant to be a concept album, so there were a lot of discussions about what atmospheres should be conveyed by the music and lyrics. However, the actual sound of ASCENSION took shape in a completely organic fashion. As far as I remember, the only outspoken decision was tuning down to C; we’re all huge death metal fans and wanted to infuse our work with that special quality provided only by genuine death metal darkness. Ever since the beginning up until now, we’ve been guided only by our emotions. We don’t over-analyse things, nor has there ever been any kind of plan at play. If a particular sound or riff resonates with either our bodies or minds, we work on and develop it further. Unless we are fully convinced, it won’t be used. We refer to our music as a medium for communicating with the divine, which means this aspect must be embodied in the effect it has on us.
“Consolamentum” and the “Fire and Faith” EP were recorded simultaneously in The Source Studios during the summer of 2010. Given the momentum ASCENSION had going in the wake of their “With Burning Tongues” demo from the year before, this venture must have been wrought with a fair bit of pressure.
– We’ve only ever felt excitement when heading into the studio together, yet that particular session was special for us in many ways. First off, the demo was only partly recorded in a studio – the drums, which are my duties, were tracked in a rehearsal place equipped with decent gear. So, it was my first proper studio recording, as well as my introduction to click-tracks… that was something else. Moreover, besides high expectations, there were a few additional concerns: coming from a rehearsal place filled with such energy and, especially, a highly distinct sound… would we be able to channel this into the grand ambitions we’d nurtured in our heads and hearts? Luckily, we had a supremely talented and innovative studio crew at our disposal. We entered The Source in broad daylight on a clear summer’s day; suddenly, after some introductory talking and rigging up the drums, the sky turned black as pitch. Rainclouds and thunderstorms swept in, submerging the studio in darkness. At that point, it was obvious to us that we were firmly on the right track.
The “Fire and Faith” EP was released November 1, 2010. “Consolamentum” came almost two months later – December 24, ten years to the day from when this feature is published. Both were released by German underground label World Terror Committee, who also issued the demo. After having been sold out for several years, the vinyl version is available again as of today. Unhold, the proprietor of WTC, told me that the ASCENSION debut was in many ways both a milestone and a defining moment for the label.
– Unhold put a lot of trust in us from the start and we received immense support from WTC on many levels. He gave us the chance to create “Consolamentum” the way we wanted, which is certainly not a boast many bands can make. We never paid much attention to the response we get from the ‘general public’, so to speak – the true reward was always being able to record the album in accordance with our vision. It became clear to us in the early days of our relationship that Unhold is, first and foremost, a pure black metal maniac who craves nothing more than a savage but atmospheric record capable of touching him deep inside. The financial considerations were always secondary. So, when we arrived at his place for the listening session, it was more like coming to a fan rather than our label boss. We had deliberately withheld the advance from him, so he’d only heard the material on crude rehearsal recordings. We sat down, brought out the booze, lit some candles, and then blasted the record on deafening volume. No words were spoken until the last tone, but we could observe how he dissolved into certain parts… and how other aspects triggered the more aggressive side of his nature. Well, to go into detail wouldn’t enlighten people who don’t know Unhold, but it was a great experience for everyone involved. He still holds that album in high regard.
Another key player in bringing “Consolamentum” to life was Valnoir from Parisian art studio Metastazis.
– Although we provided some ideas, he took us completely by surprise with that cover – not to mention all the different symbols and imagery. We loved the way every detail of creating the record seemed to fit seamlessly into the next one; it’s certainly proof that a clear vision, combined with the force of will in a union of the right individuals, can change the face of the earth. We decided early to keep the line-up of ASCENSION anonymous and instead encourage people to concentrate on the music, lyrics, and artwork. Given the amount of feedback we received from listeners who have delved deeply into the conceptual side of “Consolamentum”, it seems this idea panned out rather well. The journey from the birth of an idea to the whole finished art-piece is a challenging one, but highly rewarding when the result ends up almost exactly as you wanted.
“Consolamentum” made a serious impact and was embraced by listeners and critics alike – from the underground to more mainstream circles. As many bands who garner success are prone to, ASCENSION also gave rise to a number of imitators. Having now spoken to a number of musicians who’ve made influential albums, it seems to me that most get some semblance of artistic satisfaction from having made such a memorable impression as to incite imitation. Nevertheless, many also express a seething annoyance over the shameless appropriation of what they feel is essentially the musical and visionary manifestation of their soul. As if the pretenders had the whole package served to them, as opposed to arriving there through following an inner call.
– Mm, I know what you mean; this has indeed been known to bother us from time to time. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to recognise the fact that judging the works of other bands is neither our appointed task nor within our rights. We know nothing about them, or their motivations and ideas. But I think you have a point when talking about a ‘package served’. Thinking back, I believe it would’ve been around then a lot of folks suddenly started bringing out their scarves and masks and began singing about ‘enlightenment’. Although we emphasise the philosophical aspects of the dark side, so to speak, it has always been equally important to explore the sinister, destructive, and abhorrent ones – I feel that some of these bands are really lacking in the latter. But, ultimately, we can only judge the things we’ve done ourselves.