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Sunday, August 10, 2008

CD Review: Ascension of the Watchers - Numinosum

Ascension of the Watchers - Numinosum
2008 13th Planet/Megaforce Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



One of the biggest reasons Fear Factory stood out from the rest of the blast beat-driven metal acts (also taking into consideration that Fear Factory's Raymond Herrera was one of the innovators of the ankle-happy style) is because it possessed a soul beneath the pounding aggression. Fear Factory, on their classic albums Obsolete and Demanufacture could rip and tear with the fiercest of them, but beneath the blunt terror zone of their machinae-gone-mad format was a vocalist who can also be given a fair share of credit for innovation, the fact that Burton C. Bell possessed an ability to present clean soaring vocals to counter his throat-choked woofs. As not too many metal vocalists were capable of such dynamics during the mid-nineties, Bell's mood-shifting duality was one of Fear Factory's highest assets, even as their multitude of would-be successors have made it cliche.

Where Bell made the transformation from the strict agro bellowing on Fear Factory's raging Fear is the Mindkiller album is perhaps now best explained in his newest project Ascension of the Watchers. Featuring absolutely no screaming in this endeavor, Bell engineers a set of hypnotic trance rock songs that randomly bear airy techniques from alternative greats of the eighties and nineties such as Lush, Cocteau Twins, Killing Joke, Psychedelic Furs, Love and Rockets and The Cure. In turn, most of the songs on Ascension of the Watchers' Numinosum are meditative ohms which Bell utilizes for a personal therapy session.

Numinosum is largely Bell's search for spirituality and enlightenment in a non-metal conjecture. A complete about-face from the cold steel nihilism of Fear Factory or even the pounding hellholes of Geezer Butler's solo band G-Z-R, which Bell once fronted, Numinosum is cerebral and introspective, bearing almost no parallels to Burton C. Bell's metallic past. Story has it that Bell exiled himself from Los Angeles to seek out answers and a state of peace in rural Pennsylvania with fellow Fear Factory mate John Bechdel (who has also done stints with Ministry, Prong, Killing Joke and False Icons) and the end result was a five-track recording Iconoclast, which tested both participants' musical boundaries.

On Numinosum, Bell and Bechdel are joined by Edu Mussi from Echoes of Shadows and Still Life Decay and the end result is a long succession of pensive electro and acoustic soundscapes that some may consider new age, even with a Prodigy-like digital beat guiding melancholic 12 string and synth notes on the atmospheric "Evading." If Numinosum is new age at all, it's in the fact that Bell and his cohorts attempt to lead their listeners into a spacious sound room of serenity on "Canon For My Beloved," "Moonshine" and "Like Falling Snow."

Ascension of the Watchers dwells close to pop on the effervescent "On the River" as they plant themselves and their audience on a curb for the acoustic interlude of "Violet Morning." Along the way they bravely take on Simon and Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" and strip an already low-key song down to a slow and naked tempo with which to build guitar and bass layers on top, making the song very much their own.

With guest artists Ben Bell as well as Al Jourgensen and the late Paul Raver from Ministry, Numinosum is the medicated antithesis to the raucous engine of chaos that is Fear Factory. While Burton C. Bell is still in transit of converting his metal-kissed pipes into a more sedentary venture, by and large he washes himself in the basks of Numinosum and sweetly conveys a set of romantic and ecclesiastical ideals for his efforts.

Rating: ****

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