Ark Ascent and The Downfall Manifesto
Ark Ascent and The Downfall Manifesto
UK progressive metal band Ark Ascent, featuring former ShadowKeep vocalist Rogue Marechal, current DGM bassist Andrea Arcangeli and Sirenia drummer Michael Brush has just unleashed their debut masterpiece Downfall via Ascent Records. Ark Ascent fearlessly transport the listener on an epic journey that is sure to captivate the senses of all music connoisseurs looking for a sweeping auditory adventure. Highwire Daze recently caught up with vocalist Rogue Marechal to find out a whole lot more about the almighty Ark Ascent and the story behind their Downfall manifesto. Read on…
Introduce yourself, tell me what you do in Ark Ascent, and how long the band has been together.
My name is Rogue Marechal, I’m the vocalist in Ark Ascent and run the label behind the band, Ascent Records. The band started as a studio project that Jack (Kirby, guitars) got off the ground around 2010, when he was 17. We hooked up a couple of years later and we immediately found the partnership worthy of being taken further, so that is what we did!
We worked on pre-production for 2-3 years before approaching Andrea Arcangeli, from DGM, to take on the bass recording duties for the final product. Later on, my good friend Rich Hinks (now Annihilator’s bass player) got involved to mix and co-produce the album. Along with my partner in life, Katia (Filipovic) on piano, and a couple of guests, these are the people you will find performing on Downfall.
We later on recruited Mike (Brush – Sirenia, drums) to complete the line-up, although he is featured in our video for Sanctuary, filmed in 2017, but that was his first involvement with the band – Jack had recorded the drums for the album already by that time. We are also currently auditioning for a keyboard player, so as you can see we are moving forward all the time and it really feels like a big family at this point, which is nice!
Where is the band based out of and what is your local music scene like there?
We are mostly UK based, although Andrea and myself live abroad. Well right now I am based in Belgium, for a few months, while I grow the business and explore distribution and touring opportunities, as well as doing some radio promotion. I’ll return to the UK when that’s taken care of.
I think the UK scene has come a long way from the days I started my career with ShadowKeep, there is a thriving scene of melodic metal bands and the specialised press, I think, is a bit less focused on the big acts these days. We got some decent reviews from the UK press this time around and that is always a positive sign. Unfortunately I think the touring opportunities over there are rather limited still however, and I feel that Britain being on its way out of the EU may only make matters worst – we’ll see!
Is there any overall story or concept behind the album title Downfall?
Yes! the album relates the story of an individual that is chosen to witness a series of dramatic events; first the demise of mankind, shortly followed by the collapse of the universe and therefore the end of every form of life beyond earth.
Select two songs from Downfall and what inspired the lyrics.
I think the couple of singles we put out in support of the album are probably the key points from a lyrical point of view. Sanctuary is the first appearance of the main character, disoriented, following the first earthly signs of the troubles ahead. Innocence Lost is his realisation of the purpose of him being spared the fate of his kinship and his role in a much bigger scheme than humankind could ever be.
In this sense the album in divided in two distinct parts; the first takes an anthropomorphic angle to the story. The second puts things in perspective at a larger scale and in effect the ‘chosen’ is merely the narrator. This tale of doom then climaxes in the 13-minute long epic at the end of the album (The End of Time).
Who did the cover of Downfall and how much input did you have on it?
The artist is a well-known ‘space art’ artist named Bob Eggleton based in Providence, US. I’ve known Bob for quite a while and believe it or not I actually had contacted him over 15 years ago after seeing an as yet unused artwork he had put up on his site… if I recall correctly that piece of artwork had been created as part of the conceptual assets for a sci-fi movie that never saw the light of day.
When the time came to finalise Downfall I realised how appropriate that artwork would be given the theme of the album and promptly recontacted him to see the status of that piece of work and he was up with the idea for it to be used for our album. I think it was the perfect partnership, and I hope people check out his other stuff too, he’s in my opinion, weirdly, at the same time both renown and underrated in his field.
What could one expect from a live Ark Ascent show?
It’s an interesting question as we have some new material already written, and I guess if an opportunity to perform longer sets arose we wouldn’t shy away from throwing a new song or two into the mix. Realistically though, due to time constrains, our set will more likely focus on the debut album until the follow up is released. We’ve been rehearsing a very interesting 30 minutes set that I think will sweep the audience off its feet – short and sweet… or perhaps not so sweet, more like a ton of bricks coming right at ya ha!
If Ark Ascent could open for any band either now or from the past, who would it be and why?
I’m not sure… Queensryche or Symphony X would be nice, for the obvious reason – the size of the crowd they pull to their gigs, but I think I would equally relish the opportunity to warm up an audience for a band we already share a friendship with, such as Threshold, Darkwater or DGM… being on the road has to be fun and I think as an opening band it’s great if you feel you are pulling your own weight into making the tour a success and the social aspect is ever so important!
When you look back on your work in ShadowKeep, what do you think of it now?
I’m very proud of it, particularly the second album. Unfortunately it seemed that all the elements I had yearned to come more to the front over time, namely odd time signatures and counterpointed keyboard or vocal arrangements, were always seen by our fans as a distraction. Fair enough, to be frank, but if you listen to Ark Ascent’s signature recipe it should be no surprise that ultimately I felt this musical setting was a more natural environment for me to evolve in.
Did Queensryche ever hear and comment on the ShadowKeep cover of Queen Of The Reich?
Not that I know of… you know it’s a very strange story that one. I wasn’t keen on recording a cover for a compilation, a mere couple of months after putting our self-titled EP. It just made sense from a promotion point of view, but I did not want to lose the focus of writing the follow up album. I remember making a bargain with the guys then: if we managed to come up with the core ideas for at least one new song before we hit the studio to record the QR track then we were game. And we did, the song Corruption Within not only saw the light of day in that interim, but is lyrically about that time.
Do you still keep in touch with any of the members of ShadowKeep? They released a Self-Titled album last year.
Apart from Scott Higham which has remained a good friend, and our original bass player, Jim (Daley), not really. As you may or may not know I was involved in the pre-production of the latest album, and wrote several songs for it, that were later altered for the final release. I had hit a fairly dark place in my life in the midst of that process and instead of supporting me, the band decided they were better off looking elsewhere.
… I’m glad they completed the album and released it, it was the right thing to do, I guess. I personally prefer to focus on the people involved and nurture a sense of extended family and loyalty, and this has worked particularly well in the case of Ark Ascent. Honestly I feel that beyond any opportunities that may come for us in the next year or two, we have already a strong friendship to cherish and that is worth a lot to me.
Are you currently involved with any other bands outside of Ark Ascent?
Yes and no – I do some writing here and there, some vocal session occasionally too, although I’m not hugely into that… for me music is about finding some chemistry with some other like-minded individuals and pretty much obsess over the details. It is rare for me to find that kind of fruitful partnership, but it happens. I have a couple of unfinished projects in a drawer that I feel should see the light of day, and, if myself and the people they involve ever find themselves in the right place, they will!
What’s up in the New Year for Ark Ascent?
As hinted at earlier, we are writing for the second album. I has been ongoing for 2-3 years already and I think, while it’s unlikely the next album will be released next year, I’d be surprised if we don’t start the process of recording something in 2020 in view to put it out the following year. On the other hand, it’s possible you’ll see a single or EP from us next year, we are evaluating the best course of action really.
… touring wise, I’m hoping there will be something, but again it is a tough time for bands in general and for UK based bands in particular, at least if the goal – and it is – is to play to audiences across multiple countries.
Any final words of wisdom?
To quote Kansas, if I claimed to be a wise man, it surely would mean that I don’t know. In these troubled times, the best I can offer is to urge each and everyone to live for the moment, and be kind and tolerant to others way of thinking… nothing good ever came from selfishness and hatred!
Ark Ascent is:
Jack Kirby – Guitars, Keyboards
Rogue Marechal – Vocals (ex-ShadowKeep)
Andrea Arcangeli – Bass (DGM, Noveria)
Michael Brush – Drums (Sirenia, Holy Tide)
(Interview by Ken Morton)
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