Ascend the Helix – Spiral of Reflection


Adam Smiarowski started Ascend the Helix as a solo project in 2019 and invited ex-Intervals bassist and former Interloper vocalist, Mike Semesky, to help bring his compositions to life. As a graduate of the University of California San Diego, Smiarowski majored in Music Production and only picked up the guitar at age eighteen. The aim on his debut album is to explore “a mix of scales not so commonly used in the mainstream, such as diminished and melodic minor scales.” Smiarowski’s prog metal credentials are impressive, but you might have reservations when you learn that Spiral of Reflection clocks up a running time of one hour and seventeen minutes and has no influences other than – yep, you guessed it – a certain Swedish band beginning with the letter M.

It’s worth saying up front that the musicianship and audio engineering on this album are exquisite. Guitar riffs squirm through the speakers like muscle cramps. Drum snares appear to be playing in common time in most songs but soon deviate away from a standard 4/4 beat as you become immersed in them. Semesky’s dual vocal style takes the good cop/bad cop approach to new levels of rhythmic communication. Everything about the execution oozes class. If only we could hear a semblance of originality…

Opening track, ‘Wake’, is unique in its Meshuggah worship for focusing on ‘Demiurge’ as its foundations rather than ‘Bleed’ or ‘Future Breed Machine’. Close your eyes and you could be listening to a clone of the 2016 classic from Tomas Haake and co. Unfortunately, even the lead guitar imitates Fredrik Thordendal’s bizarre interpretation of Allan Holdsworth’s unique jazz-fusion phrasing. Follow-up, ‘Born of Light’ is just as enjoyable in its superhuman might and technical minimalism. You can hear Nine Inch Nails in the intro to ‘A New Doorway’ before Smiarowski returns to his veneration of Sweden’s most influential band since Abba.

You should have guessed the main issue with this album after four songs. There are no other musical influences apart from Meshuggah. At a push, you might identify the debut Periphery album when Semesky switches to a cleaner vocal style. Maybe Erra would contemplate something like ‘Cocytus’ on their next album. ‘The Undoing’ is strong enough to feature on the last Northlane record with its hyper aggressive rhythms and melodic chorus delivery. Guest vocalist, Mike Maksim, does a stellar job adding his multi-layered vocal harmonies on ‘The Callous Soul Within’. No doubt, all members of the project have an advanced grasp of vocal arrangements.

Perhaps, we could be more sensitive in our criticism if the LP ended after track eight. But one cannot avoid the realisation that Smiarowski forgot about the listener during the entirety of this project. Forty-five minutes of Meshuggah abuse would be hard enough to stomach but extending it beyond one hour with an average song-length of seven minutes is pure self-indulgence. Congratulations if you have the stamina to sit through nine minutes of a composition called ‘Transcendence’ at track ten. You won’t achieve the enlightenment promised in the song title, but it might cure your insomnia and send you into the arms of sleep.

Adam Smiarowski is a talented composer and musician, so why is he content to imitate the greats rather than aim for greatness by attempting something original? Many bands try to clone Meshuggah and fail. Ascend the Helix have the talent to create an accurate replication of the Swedes’ art, but is that something to look upon with pride?

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 14/07/2023

Record Label: Self Released

Standout tracks: Born of the Light, Herald of Deceit, Cocytus

Suggested Further Listening: Meshuggah – Immutable (2022), Periphery – Periphery (2010), Aeffect – Theory of Mind (2023)