Hailing from the Sunshine State of Florida (not renowned for being a hot bed for prog rock), the band Ascher have produced an excellent debut album entitled, appropriately, Beginnings.
Over nine diverse and entertaining tracks, five of which are instrumental, the band have produced a flowing album of fresh and vibrant progressive rock – full of guitar-driven rock, vintage and modern keyboard wizardry and melodic, hook-laden songs. With time signature and tempo changes aplenty to please most prog fans – whilst ensuring the lyrically-songs are spiritually thought-provoking and grounded enough, providing an impressive cohesion across the album.
The band’s history is an intriguing one. Multi-instrumentalist Doug Bowers and lead guitarist Rob Perez have been collaborating on one another’s many musical projects for many years. Doug has played in progressive rock bands such as Ad Astra, KDB3 and Vertical Alignment, whilst Rob has been in Visual Cliff as well as developing his solo project, Bluesyndrome.
In 2021 they formed a short-lived band, progressing their musical vision, before disbanding it in early 2022. However, the project did yield many co-written instrumental pieces in that time. Later in the year, Doug started working with another guitarist, Blake Dickeson, and began fleshing out some of Blake’s musical ideas. Rob was brought in to add some lead guitar on these, and then suggested that those earlier instrumentals might be revisited at the same time. It became clear to the trio that a new band might be the best way to express this growing repertoire – and Ascher was born. The line-up was soon completed, on Rob’s suggestion, by Kyle Graves, who was brought in to provide the quality of vocals needed for the four songs with lyrics. Beginnings is the fruit of this creative partnership and a mighty fine one it is.
I’m told by Doug that he initially thought of the name Asscher, which is a specific cut of diamond patented by a Dutch diamond company (apparently a favourite of his wife). However, it was Rob who suggested that one ‘s’ was dropped and brought it closer to the Hebrew name of Asher, meaning ‘happy and blessed’, which Doug thought fitted the band rather nicely.
Beginnings, appropriately, kicks off the album very impressively. Over atmospheric, sustained keyboard notes, strummed, off-kilter minor and major electric guitar chords produce an unsettling soundscape, before the momentum picks up powerfully, with some lovely flowing guitar soloing over melodic keyboard shapes. There are some soaring retro keyboards and synths later, before a satisfying, piano-led finish and a quick proggy flourish at the close.
In the Clear Distance starts as a dynamic rocker, with dense guitar riffing propelling the song forward as Kyle delivers his confident vocals. The lyrics highlight someone finding themselves in a particular reality and trying to find a way to escape it and look to the future.
My mind’s uncluttered, senses keen energised, what does it mean?
Is this merely all a dream or am I part of a grand scheme.
There are no answers that I can see in the clear distance.”
There is a nicely judged change of character mid-way with some lush keyboards and guitar intertwining, along with vocal interplay, before returning to the earlier theme, with a changed tone to the lyrics, suggesting, perhaps, a future path might be appearing?
I see this all before me now in the clear distance.”
Emotive piano and resonant vocals introduce the stately The Great Divide and as the musical layers build steadily into a melancholic brooding on past events and lost friendships, with echoes of Pink Floyd’s High Hopes here and there. Subtle guitar and string-like synthesisers add to the poignancy, and it’s another chance for Rob to produce some concise, but telling, guitar soloing. The contemplative vocals are rich in regret and suggest that the ‘wait and see’ attitude to the passage of time doesn’t necessarily provide any respite to those feelings of loss.
We all must face the truth to heal our wounds.
The great divide will only grow, if left unchecked the seeds we sow,
Will bind us.”
It was the opening single, released in February, and very much feels like the centrepiece of the album. The instrumental version at the end of the album works very effectively as well – revealing hidden gems of musical interplay.
Ransom For the Righteous, by contrast, is a vibrant and diverse, jam-style instrumental which alternates between a heavy, guitar-led, hard-rock swagger and an upbeat keyboard-led gallop. Packed with Doug’s exuberant retro-style keyboards and Rob’s expressive guitar lines, it has a toe-tapping rhythm through to the driving conclusion.
Although the musicians come from a Christian progressive rock background, any spiritual message is well-nuanced and never overwhelms the music. So, while De Profundis is an interpretation of the Catholic prayer of the sinner, seeking redemption from the depths of despair, it universally addresses that inner voice within all of us, which might initially pull us down, but then may provide us with hope of a fresh start and renewal – pulling us back up from the abyss. The resonating instrumentation, dominated by chiming guitar motifs, is suitably dark and disturbing, and complement the melodramatic, pleading lyrical message.
Longing for darkness and the comfort of night.
This wasteland within me is all I am shown,
This hopeless despair is all I have known.”
The inner voice initially provides no hope, but this soon changes as mid-way the music soars and becomes more uplifting and positive as the tempo rises. Bright, sweeping keyboard and guitar introduce the more encouraging tone of that inner voice, leading to the final verse:
Delivered me from this.”
The closing instrumentation completes the journey from darkness to the light very effectively indeed.
Nail Soup is another instrumental with an infectious rhythmic saunter, providing an enjoyable showcase for the virtuosity of the musicians. There is a nice touch of variety in Rob’s guitar work and a musical sweep that combines classic rock with progressive elements.
What The World Can’t Give is melodic prog rock with neo-prog touches, not too dissimilar to that of Drifting Sun’s most recent release, Forsaken Innocence. It’s central message of materialism v spirituality is delivered with great aplomb by Kyle. Whilst undoubtedly Christian in its vision, the band avoid the pitfalls of many other such bands – delivering the lyrical content in a balanced and more considered and integrated manner.
I give what the world can’t give.
From the least you are placed first.
Living waters quench your thirst.”
The album officially ends with the gentle, flowing instrumental, Wheels Turning Now. This has some pleasant and paced musical interplay, which grows on you more and gains gravitas with repeated listens.
However, whilst listed as a bonus track, the instrumental version of The Great Divide, called The Instrumental Divide, rounds off the whole album very successfully. As a result, I feel it is an integral part of the album, rather than just an add-on. It is very good to hear the musical structure away from the lyrics, such as the floating piano lines and Floydian guitar and it provides a rich and satisfying coda to end proceedings.
Just time for a word of praise for Blake, whose rhythm guitar provides the solid foundation to much of the album, over which Rob and Doug can shine brightly when needed.
Beginnings is a well-crafted and highly enjoyable debut album of melodic progressive rock from the USA, with enough light and shade, and power and delicacy, to please any prog rock fans who enjoy confident and expressive instrumental flights of fancy, but also songs with thoughtful and well-integrated lyrical content. Despite its diversity, there is a holistic cohesion to the whole release which is very satisfying. It definitely has something to offer any listening and I found it a real breath of fresh air. Check it out on Bandcamp.
01. Beginnings (6:03)
02. In The Clear Distance (5:07)
03. The Great Divide (7:44)
04. Ransom For The Righteous (6:19)
05. De Profundis (7:58)
06. Nail Soup (5:27)
07. What The World Can’t Give (6:03)
08. Wheels Turning Now (4:12)
09. The Instrumental Divide (bonus) (7:44)
Total Time – 56:37
Doug Bowers – Keyboards, Acoustic & Electric Rhythm Guitars, Bass, Lead & Backing Vocals, Drum/Percussion Programming
Blake Dickeson – Acoustic & Electric Rhythm Guitars
Rob Perez – Lead & Rhythm Electric Guitars
Kyle Graves – Lead & Backing Vocals
Record Label: Three in One Records (Digital – Stream/Download only)
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 15th March 2023