Exocrine’s debut album “Unreal Existence” was an intense no holds barred technically progressive metal affair, so it was good to learn that this quartet from Bordeaux have followed it up with another one.

The band announce their intention without delay with the highly technical brutal death track “Terra” – shuddering, juddering, and twirling, it is progressive exhilaration and excitement. I’m hearing a bit of Fallujah in this. Exocrine are not frightened to take a break and surprise us with a lighter moment. Such moments are rare and the three part “Chapter 1: Exode” as they have it, starts with the thunderous and yet melodic “Alpha”. The breaks are there, the twirling patterns are there, the brutal death is there and it’s all breathless stuff. “Alpha” winds down discordantly for a few seconds before an Opeth type assault ends it. We now move to the cosmos and there is the sense of drama as “The Fall” begins. Fast, furious, carefully considered and inevitably technical, it exudes rich and dark patterns. My juices are flowing as Exocrine rise up and punish us in a most delightful way. Slightly disconcerting is the fact that towards the end of each track so far, it slows down before hitting back with drum-triggering and flamboyant intensity. “Cryogenisation” has a deeper and more obscure nature, ranging between a pure death base and the epic structure of Exocrine’s compatriots Uneven Structure. An intricate pattern butts in. The vocalist growls and screams, as the instrumental section takes it to ever more dangerous territory.

Now comes “Chapter II: The Ascension”. It’s the cue for more bludgeoning technicality. I’m not normally one for indulgence but a colourful and playful passage in the middle of “Eternal Solitude” made me think it needed more of this. It’s dealt with smoothly as it expands into another big and expressive section. Always at the core are the technicality and brutality. Airy programming occasionally finds its way into the fireworks, and Exocrine are not averse to widening the playing field and the intensity, as they do on “Amber”. My only reservation with all this is that it’s heavily self-indulgent and makes no cohesive sense. In fact the cosmic and progressive excursions bring this album into the field of the experimental. “The Hive” has its own progressive agenda. The way it deviates into a sonic wonderland would be like Haken except for the fact it’s utterly heavy and brutal. But the amassing of musical waves is like Haken. “Chapter III Rebirth” continues the onslaught. I must confess I didn’t get the significance of these chapters but as with “The Hive” earlier, “Garden of Flesh” has that Haken-like playfulness and sophistication, but in a much darker context. “Empyre” ends the album with customary sparks flying everywhere like machine guns firing. There’s more colour and more experimentation in the expression of this very rich and technical landscape. The colour unexpectedly turns to powerful melancholy, thus rounding off this unrestricted expanse of heavy sounds in epic fashion.

“Ascension” is not for the faint-hearted. The brutal death style is nothing unusual in itself but when it is mixed with technical progressive experimentalism, it is distinctly different. It’s not the easiest of albums to absorb as there’s so much going on, but it’s not indigestible. In fact the sheer intensity of “Ascension” makes it impossible to ignore.

(8.5/10 Andrew Doherty)