Morgan Wick – The Ascent – Album Review

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Artist: Morgan Wick

Album Title: The Ascent

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 1 December 2017

A little over 12 months ago, I was presented with ‘Atrament’, the sophomore release from Seattle’s A Sense of Gravity. I was thoroughly impressed with the record too. In fact, as I wrote within that review, it forced me to reassess my thoughts and opinions on the whole tech/djent genre. I had become a little tired and uninterested in this kind of music but ‘Atrament’ made me sit up and take notice.

Fast forward a year and I now have in my possession a promo copy of ‘The Ascent’, the debut album from A Sense Of Gravity guitarist Morgan Wick. Given the positive impression that A Sense of Gravity made on me, I felt it was only right and proper to see what one of the sextet had to offer under his own moniker.

‘The Ascent’ is referred to as a ‘progressive metal’ album and, while that is correct, it will come as almost no surprise that the record is heavily cloaked in the kind of tech metal/djent sounds that sit at the heart of A Sense of Gravity. That said there are many differences too. Not least, ‘The Ascent’ is an instrumental album, meaning that there’s even more space for the instruments to shine, principally the guitars. In fact, overall, there is a greater feeling of space throughout the record.

‘Escape Velocity’ is a cracking way to start off this album. It fully deserves its ‘progressive’ tag as it pulls together many different ideas, sounds and textures into one cohesive composition that never seems to sit still. The transitions are smooth and nicely executed and so the shifts between heavier and softer material never feels jarring; the quieter, more introspective moments carry with them quite strong jazz/fusion overtones but they also allow Wick to demonstrate his lead skills with the guitar, executing several lengthy and vibrant solos throughout the piece. In contrast, the heavier sections are pulled along by urgent yet precise drumming and chunky, down-tuned riffs. The biggest compliment I can pay this opening track is that I didn’t find myself missing the vocals too much.

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Within seconds of ‘Solar Storm’ entering the fray, I am heavily reminded of recent output from Haken, albeit when they are at their more playful; the melodies, the guitar tones and the general carefree yet heavy vibe – they all call to mind the UK prog metal band. To these ears, this isn’t a bad thing at all. Those worried about ‘clone’ issues should content themselves with the fact that Wick does manage to inject his own personality and execution into the track and again, the six-string dexterity and execution will have your mouth wide open for sure. As such, I enjoy what I hear. If anything, it is better than the opener, particularly when the lead guitar line sings above an irresistibly groove riff or when the song descends into Meshuggah-heavy territory just after the half-way mark.

‘Gravity Well’ grabs the attention with yet more incredible guitar playing, unusual time signatures, stop-start riffs and one of the most infectious lead guitar lines I’ve heard in the last few weeks. The gentle acoustic guitar intro to ‘The Fall’ is a beautiful change of pace. My only comment would be that I wish it was longer. Nevertheless, it does return later in the song, more expansively but equally crisp and precise in execution.

This precision I have spoken about never manages to turn ‘The Ascent’ into a cold, technical exercise and I think this is one of the reasons why it works so well. Wick manages to deliver some incredibly complicated music whilst imbuing it with warmth and enough accessibility to ensure each track is considered a song rather than just a piece of music.

In properly prog style, ‘The Ascent’ ultimately closes with the title track that extends beyond the 15-minute mark. The introduction is genuinely moody and atmospheric, quite cinematic and almost sci-fi in tone, and it’s not until the third minute that it finally gives way to some heavier, more metallic instrumentation. When things do get heavier, it results in some of the most extreme material on the disc, including a brief venture into thrash and death metal territories, further accentuating the opposite ends of the spectrum with which Wick is clearly equally as comfortable and adept. Some of the passages of music really run wild in terms of their technicality but in and amongst the myriad of fluctuating ideas, a melody isn’t far away to bring the listener back on track. It’s a clever skill but one that Wick clearly possesses.

All-in-all, I’d say that ‘The Ascent is a triumph for Morgan Wick. On balance, I probably prefer his work with A Sense of Gravity but that has more to do with my preference for music with vocals. If however, you like instrumental music with a lovely blend of technicality and just enough melody, you could do a lot worse than check this record out.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Aetherian – The Untamed Wilderness
Buried Realm – The Ichor Carcinoma
Almanac – Kingslayer
Von Hertzen Brothers – War Is Over
Witchery – I Am Legion
Cloak – To Venomous Depths
Elvenking – Secrets of the Magick Grimoire
Moonspell – 1755
Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black
Communic – Where Echoes Gather
Impureza – La Caida De Tonatiuh
Auđn – Farvegir Fyrndar
Beast In Black – Berserker
Serenity – Lionheart
Sorcerer – The Crowning of the Fire King
Daydream XI – The Circus of the Tattered and Torn
CyHra – Letters To Myself
Devoid – Cup of Tears
Ne Obliviscaris – Urn
Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony
Enslaved – E
Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

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