Album Review: Ranges – The Ascensionist

Ranges - The Ascensionist banner

I’ve long admired Ranges, the concept post-rock quartet hailing from Bozeman, Montana. I enjoy the thought-provoking concepts that they use to inspire each of their releases (read my reviews of “Night and Day” and The Gods Of The Copybook Headings for some examples). The packaging behind each release is also brilliant [one of the perks of owning a printing press as a side business]. Their last output was a cassette tape that included a cryptic puzzle in the packaging, which revealed the information regarding this latest release – should the listener possess the time and energy to crack it.

Alas, I did not spend the time cracking said puzzle, as it arrived in the post just prior to my leaving home to travel around the United States. However, another writer more intelligent and articulate than I (Aaron Edwards from Arctic Drones) solved it and shared what he found: the track listing and title to the latest Ranges release, The Ascensionist.

In recent years, members of the band have been busy growing the ever-expanding screen printing/merch/distro/record label/business that is A Thousand Arms. They’ve also released the aforementioned tape, Prelude, and their first vinyl 7″ record, And The People Cried Out For A King. On top of this, A Thousand Arms has compiled and released a number of free post-rock compilations (including Open Language and Hemispheres). Despite all this work filling their schedule, Ranges still managed to find the time to record a new record in time for the inaugural dunk!USA festival in Burlington, Vermont.

Ranges the Ascensionist second pressing

This is music for adventures. Grandiose, epic soundtracks for brave feats. The album title – The Acensionist – and the band name – Ranges – both allude to the mountainous region of Montana where the band lives – references to the environment that inspires the respective members of the band.

Suitably enough, the first time I listened to the album was during an adventure. I had just rented a car in Phoenix, Arizona, and was making my way north to Montana to meet up with the band. New Zealanders drive on the left hand side of the road, but I thought I’d got the hang of American driving when living in Maine a few months earlier. Turns out driving in the low built-up wilderness of Maine doesn’t equate to the hectic five lane roads of Arizona’s biggest city. I freaked out.

I swear the album played at least four times on repeat as I drove from Phoenix to Sedona. I was too terrified to take my eyes off the road to change music, and there aren’t many suitable spots to pull over on the freeway. So The Ascensionist soundtracked my adventure, accompanying my journey through the vast deserts and arid cacti-flecked landscapes.

I revisited The Ascensionist  now and again during my week-long drive north. Passing immense gorges in Colorado, finding fossils and cave paintings in Utah, cruising along smoky mountaintops in Wyoming, and winding through geothermal hotspots in Yellowstone National Park. Epic music for epic times.

I held off reviewing the record though. I try to give music a thorough listening to when I review it, which can “kill” the appeal of the music if I overdo it. I listened to it during that trip, sure, but didn’t pick it apart and analyse it.

On tour, I heard the same set night after night for two weeks. I’m not sick of those songs, but I’m glad I didn’t listen to them too much before the tour either. It was nice going in fresh and picking up the nuances in a live context.

This review may as well be redundant. The album has been out for a few months now, so anyone who was inclined to listen to it would have already formed their own opinion by now. And Ranges don’t need my review for promo purposes – they sold out of records within a week – both US and EU editions. In fact, their second pressings came on sale on Black Friday. But I still admire the work, and I regard the members of Ranges as close friends, so I feel I owe them my thoughts on paper.

When it comes to Ranges, the music is only a component of the overall package. Concept and delivery are also paramount.

Most Ranges albums are concept albums – revolving around a theme that inspired the music. This time around, in a weird meta move, their concept is about themselves. Slightly pretentious, but at the same time neat to see the depth that they delve into with their art. Each track references a previous release. So if you look at track nine, and some of their merch, you may get insight into their next album theme…

And of course, the packaging is something else. Guitarist CJ Blessum and Ranges art director Wilson Raska co-own A Thousand Arms, a merchandising company. So their t-shirts, album covers etc… are all a step above.

The deluxe edition of the record came in 2LP 180g gatefold vinyl – different variants for the US and EU markets. The band made recycled paper with which to create custom booklets containing liner notes. They screen printed album covers and slipmats.

They also collaborated with local brewing companies to come up with special release Ranges coffee and beer. And bass player Jared Gabriel handmade clay mugs to go with the coffee.


I’ve written so much already without even touching on the music.

Blustery winds greet us on the opening track, setting the scene. I can picture a lone adventure scaling a peak, buffeted by the winds, slowly trudging through the snow. Soft guitar and mellow bass set the mood, before a swift transition into “Seven Sisters” provides us with harder hitting content that demonstrates how to make an opening statement.

When Ranges play this live, they combine the first two tracks and use a spoken word sample of Howard Simon’s poem I Choose The Mountain. I can’t hear the song without the sample, which is a shame. I think that the delivery sets the mood so well, and adds so much. By the same logic, I feel that excluding the sample from the recording detracts from the potential impact. Not that you’d know if you had only heard the album version… The embedded video above gives you an idea of how it sounds live [and I feature briefly at the 10 second mark].

This is not an upbeat record. But I still feel good when I listen to it. Take the title track, for example. “The Ascensionist” sound sombre and slow. It meanders along, slowly gaining layers and complexity. But when the guitar lead kicks in a few minutes into it, and the drums get busy, and the energy jacks up… well, it’s just grand. Sad, perhaps, but with an underlying glimmer of hope. Liken it to the emotions of conquering a mountain – grueling and hard, but thoroughly rewarding.

“Called Not to a New Religion, but to Life” took me by surprise. Programmed drums! Mark the drummer uses a Roland trigger pad to set off the electronic patterns, before adding his own acoustic beats after a few bars. CJ (guitar) is an absolute wizard, and programmed a lighting rig to sequence in time with a click track, so I wonder if the new electronica element arose from his experimenting with stage lighting? I can see it paving the way for more “glitchy” material in the future, like sleepmakeswaves or 65daysofstatic.

One of the standout tracks for me is “Babylon The Great (Part I)”. I remember they played it in Wichita, which completely took me by surprise. It was at a tiny wee bar named Kirby’s that Jared (bass) used to work at when he was at college. For some reason the guys decided to change the set that night, and played this song. It was the first time I’d heard it live. “Guys!” I said, “that track with the thrash beat… why have you been holding out on me all tour? That song kills! You need more of that higher energy stuff!” There’s something primal about the drumming on this song, with Mark just dominating.

But “Seven Veils” is the album highlight. The busy guitar line that opens is far more interesting than moody swells, and Mark’s beat features small flourishes on the hi-hats that add that extra oomph. But Joey’s guitar melody is the high point of the album – the hook that worms its way into your ear and has you subconsciously humming days later.

Listening to this album unearths fond memories. Memories of laughing along with the guys in the van, of late nights packing down equipment, of sharing pizza and budweisers, of driving through a beautiful mist-shrouded autumnal New York state, of making lifelong friends. To me, The Ascensionist sounds like adventures and friendship. And I think that is exactly what the band was trying for.

The Ascensionist is Ranges’ best album to date. It builds upon, and improves each of their prior works. I cannot remove my personal attachment to the music, but in a way that is an affirmation of quality. Great music evokes emotion.

I’m super excited for the next album. Ranges have done well thus far, but I see them on the cusp of a change. CJ has done well to carry the band this far, and has laid a great template. Now time for Joey to add more of melodies lines, and Mark to let his hardcore roots shine through on drums.

Ranges dunk!USA 2017

Ranges links:


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Words and live photography by Joseph James

Ranges Ascensionist Tour Update 4: Wichita, Colorado Springs, Billings

Ranges Hard Style

Tour Day 14: Thursday 12 October

Kirby’s Beer Store, Wichita, Kansas

w/ Honey Cloud

I can’t believe it.

It’s finally happened.

After two whole weeks, CJ has finally decided to rest. He asked Jared to drive from St Louis to Wichita. The dude with more longevity than a ultramarathon runner has reached his limit.

I’m excited for Wichita. Jared attended university there, so I imagine lots of his friends will be attending. Staying with his friends in Minneapolis was a fun time, so I hope there will be a similar party tonight.

We listen to the band Kansas on the way to Kansas, and then I put on Fleetwood Mac. It just feels right to listen to classic rock today. This is followed by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin and Queen.

Kirby’s, the venue is a tiny bar opposite the university that Jared studied at. Emphasis on the tiny. It is plastered with stickers, posters and graffiti, and there is no lock on the door of the bathroom. Jared tells me that he used to work there.

Loading in is interesting. There’s barely enough room for four musicians to stand onstage, let alone with amps and drums taking up space as well. I spot a poster advertising a Staghorn show stuck to the ceiling. I send it to Alan from the band, having met him in St Louis a few nights ago. He loves it, but is shocked to hear that Ranges fit on the stage.

The band play well tonight. They play a 40 minute set rather than the usual 30 mins. The extra song is awesome, with thrashy drum parts. Why don’t they usually play that song???

But things fall apart after the set. There’s an argument between some of the band members, with accusations that some members didn’t put in as much effort as usual. I personally think the set went fine. It’s a telling sign that we are all getting too worn out from the long drives and inadequate sleep. It doesn’t help that the next band plays horrible, erratic free-jazz. That crap is enough to put anybody in a bad mood.

Jared loves catching up with all of his arty friends from grad school, and one couple hosts us at their house that night.

Tour Day 15: Friday 13 October

Triple Nickel Tavern, Colorado Springs

w/ Eyelet, Blind, the Thief, Euth, Shiii Whaaa

I had thought that we were due to play Denver tonight, going off an old tour poster. Turns out that gig had fallen through and we had a gig in Colorado Springs instead, a few hours drive south of Denver.

We stop at a shopping mall on the way to the venue. We’re all running low on clean clothes so a few of the guys grab buy some fresh gear to prolong the illusion of cleanliness. I buy a New York Yankees baseball cap to please Mark. He used to write for some baseball publications covering the Yankees on their way to the playoffs, so insists that I rep his team. He’s as pleased as punch once I start wearing it around, especially when the game is on at the bar later in the night.

We eat at El Taco Rey, just around the corner from the venue. It’s one of the meals I’ve had on tour. The food tastes outstanding, and it’s affordable too.

Triple Nickle Tavern reminds me of Triple Rock in Minneapolis. There’s a distinct punk feel to it. Lot’s of bands are playing tonight so it’s a struggle to find enough space for everyone to put their gear.

Shiii Whaaa start the night off well with their fun punk style. The following two bands are horrible, with lots of screaming, so I head outside to chat to Sam, a Ranges fan who has driven for over an hour to get to the gig.

My highlight of the night is the last band, Blind, the Thief. They play upbeat math rock, similar to Toe. It’s fantastic. I love dancing to energetic music so I make sure to get my fill.

Tour Day 16, Saturday 14 October

Shooters Bar, Billings, Montana

w/ In Rapture, As The Crow Flies

Everyone is in good spirits today. The last night of tour! The guys are keen to get back to their families and sleep in their own beds.

I sleep during most of the drive up through Colorado and Wyoming, but when we stop for gas I notice that we are in the middle of a snow flurry. It snows in New Zealand, but usually I need to go up a mountain to get to it, so it feels novel to experience it here.

Shooters Bar in Billings feels more like home. Good old Montana, with plenty of red necks wearing trucker caps and no sales tax – one place in America free-er than most.

Joey’s wife and daughter have made the drive to Billings to see us, and CJ’s sisters come to the show as well.

First act As The Crow Flies are from Bozeman as well. They play awesome, stomping southern styled blues rock. The use a truck exhaust pipe as a mic stand, and Mario the singer plays a sci-fi looking guitar that he built himself.

Following act In Rapture are a sight to see. They play industrial tech metal. They’re good, but their sound mix lacks punch. And although I like to see musicians getting into it as they play, the way they moved onstage felt forced. The girl on keys actually ran out into the audience and started pushing people to start a moshpit. The music was good, and if they spend some time refining their tone and mix they’ll sound great.

I know the guys in Ranges were excited to finish. We were so close to home. They dedicated their final song of the tour to me.

We finish the night with shots and beers (a double shot of mountain dew for CJ because he was driving). Joey is dropped off somewhere in Billings where he is staying with his family for the night, and the rest of us get back to Bozeman around 2am.

As hard as it was sitting cramped in a van day in, day out, as tiring as it was pulling the late nights, as grotty as it made me feel eating pizza and gas station food for many meals, I’ve had the time of my life.

In the past few months I’ve traveled from the east coast to the west coast of America, and then met up with Ranges and driven most of it all over again. I’ve seen some amazing places, but more importantly, made some amazing friends.

dunk! was incredible. Truly memorable… well… the parts I was sober for. Certainly a great time.

And the guys in Ranges are the best. It is hard saying goodbye and returning to New Zealand after having lived in such close quarters with them for two weeks. It’s crazy that I can count them as some of my closest friends after only having known them for a short space of time.

I’ll wrap up my tour blog with something absurd, an in-joke within the band that sums up our journey well:

Greets and great times.

Joseph James


Ranges Ascensionist Tour Update 3: Syracuse, Columbus, St Louis

Ranges FOAM St Louis

Apologies for the lack of images. I’ll update this post with photos when I get wifi access.

Tour Day 11: Monday 9 October

Spark Contemporary Art Space, Syracuse, New York

w/ Man Mountain, Against The Giants, Machine Moon, How To Disappear Completely

The drive from Vermont to Syracuse is incredible. I lived in Maine for a few months earlier in the year, and it feels good to be back in beautiful New England. Upstate New York is aglow with autumnal hues. We drove through winding country roads, past glassy ponds, and through misty groves of vibrant deciduous trees. Joey put on Young and Courageous, the Tides of Man record. It seems like the perfect soundtrack for this beautiful drive. Joey and I get watery-eyed. It’s crazy how closely attached we feel to the guys in that band, considering that we’ve only known each other for four days.

I was up into the early hours of the morning hanging out with some of the musicians from dunk! in the Junius hotel room, so wasn’t feeling too crash-hot due to limited sleep.

We arrived in Syracuse and unloaded the gear into the venue – an art gallery similar to the one we played in Minot, although this one was bare.

I asked CJ what he was thinking, going from playing the biggest show of his career to the smallest. He sad he was happy for it because the pressure from dunk had been lifted off his shoulders.

We walked to a nearby pizza joint a few blocks away. It was chaos. We had to order from one place and pay at another. The staff didn’t even seem to know what was going on. I sat down with my laptop to sort through photos I’d taken at dunk!

After pizza we walked back to the venue, and I realised that my wallet was absent from my back pocket where it usually lives. I searched my bag thoroughly, emptied out my pockets and asked the guys if they’d seen it.

After turning my bag inside out a few times, and retracing my steps and searching the pizza joint, I came to the conclusion that my wallet was stolen. I spent the next hour sat in the van ringing banks to cancel my cards and trying to do some damage control for when whoever had my wallet was trying to get access to things with it.

I can’t comment on the bands that night. I was too absorbed in my own little world and took some time out in the van. Not a good day for me.

Tour Day 12: Tuesday 10 October

Spacebar, Columbus, Ohio

w/ Man Mountain, Deprecator

Thankfully I still had my passport on me, and was able to withdraw the rest of the balance from my American bank account. It wasn’t much, but it should last me the rest of my time here if I’m not stupid.

Local band Deprecator played a fun set of thrash metal, with some Slayer thrown in for good measure. It was a refreshing change from the music I’ve listened to over the past few weeks.

The End Of The Ocean live in Ohio, so we met up with some of the band at the show. The bar had ginger beer – my personal favourite – so I bought a round.Then Tara from TEOTO bought a few shots, then I had a few more beers on the band tab. Before I knew it I was buzzing.

Ranges did their usual thang. You’d think that after seeing them play the same stuff for 11 nights I’d be sick of it, but I still love watching them play. I’ve seen them enough now that I’m confident I could step in for Mark on drums if he should go Spinal Tap on us and spontaneously combust or fall off a stage.

Man Mountain were great. I posted a status on twitter: “Man Mountain: 100% bearded, 100% awesome”. I still stand by that drunken statement. It was lots of fun dancing along to their music. They have a foot pedal that sets off flood lights during their heavier passages of music. It’s simple, but adds so much to the experience.

After the show we headed down the street for a few more drinks at the bar Tara works at, and some pizza from a connected pizzeria. I covered my slice in unicorn sauce. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but it tasted amazing.

A homeless guy asked Mike from Man Mountain if he was from ZZ Top, clearly because of his impressive beard. Mike played along completely straight-faced. I just lost it.

Fun times!

Tour Day 13: Wednesday 11 October

Foam, St Louis, Missouri

w/ Man Mountain, Staghorn, CaveofswordS

One thing I adore about this scene is the DIY mentality. Ranges print their own merch and record their own music. Mark built his own snare drum. Jared made coffee cups to go with the deluxe edition of their album.

We met another band in St Louis with a similar mindset: Staghorn. Staghorn also has a printing press, so do their own t-shirts and even screen printed some posters for the show as souvenirs for us. On top of that, they even make their own amps!

Their set revolved around a dystopian comic that the band had written, with the narrative coming through the PA on a back track. I’m a sucker for spoken word samples in post-rock, and I also subscribe completely to dystopian texts, so this was the best of both worlds.

As well as drawing me in to the music, the band looked amazing. Their own custom amps look unlike most I’ve seen. They also had two lights that included salt lamps and spotlights. Allan on guitar had a balaclava/turban wrap around his face and head, adding to the sci-fi imagery. And they had a harmonium – like a piano with bellows – which was new to me, and great to watch.

Man Mountain, as usual, killed it. Those dudes are super talented and I wish them all the success they deserve.

CaveofswordS ended the night with their unique electro/darkwave/synthpop. It was quite the set up, with plenty of synths and modulators and things with buttons that I couldn’t name. The music was fun and depressing at the same time.

After the show most of the people in bands hung around outside. It was our last night with Man Mountain, and sad to see them go. Jacob the drummer and I bonded over an intense love for Into It. Over It. Bryan the guitarist told me about how he got into post-rock by listening to Lowercase Noises, which prompted him to experiment with his own ambient sounds, and later join Man Mountain.

I’m not sure exactly what time we left the venue, but apparently about ten minutes later there was a shootout right outside where we had been, resulting in a police officer being shot!

Words and photos by Joseph James

Ranges Tour Blog: One Day To Go!

Ranges The Asencionist Tour

I can hardly believe it.

I am about to embark on a tour with a band that will take me across America and back.

The band in question is Montana’s Ranges. Just last week they released their new album, The Ascensionist. In just over a week we will be at the inaugural dunk!USA festival in Burlington, Vermont.

I’ve heard the lads practicing together, but this is the first night I will see them actually perform a set. The Ascensionist is a culmination of everything the band has become, a homage to previous albums, yet fresh in its own right. I see the band at the height of their career to date, both artistically and musically. It’s a privilege to be able to see them at this exciting time.

We’re driving a mini van with trailer in tow. There are six of us: CJ (guitar) is like the dad – he is the voice of reason and will be driving for most of the tour. Joey plays guitar as well. He’s crazy and has a short attention span, but is incredibly likable. Mark is the drummer. He’s the oldest of the group, a veteran of music. His accent is different to the others, being from New York, and he has some great stories. Jared plays bass. He has a master’s degree in ceramics. He’s the one I’ve spent least time with, but no doubt I’ll know him well after spending 2 weeks in a van with him.

Wilson is tagging along too. He’s CJ’s business partner, helping to run their printing company A Thousand Arms. He’s in charge of photography and visual wizardry. He was actually an original member of the band, so it’s nice to have him along.

And then there’s me. I’ll be keeping a tour blog, taking photos, selling t-shirts, driving the van, helping to set up for the shows… in short, I’m the roadie. I’m the youngest, and I’m foreign, so most of jokes are made at my expense (mostly Hobbit references for the time being)

I helped the guys with prep last night. CJ and I combined forces to create a loft in the back of the van – a bunk that we can sleep on with room for storage underneath. We’ve been printing merch like mad as well – for both the tour and dunk!fest.

Tomorrow, the first leg of the tour, will bring us to Minot, North Dakota. I’ve been travelling around America for months now, having left my home in New Zealand in June. But America is a biiiig place, so despite visiting many different cities, I haven’t even scratched the surface. I’m hyped to see more of this amazing country, and meet locals along the way.

Ranges – The Ascensionist Tour and dunk!fest 2017

Ranges - The Ascensionist banner

This is exciting.

I’ve been running Will Not Fade for just over three years now. I cover a variety of music, but the reality is that I’m mostly known for my post-rock content. I never planned on becoming pigeon-holed like that, but it is what it is, and it has helped me form connections within the international post-rock community.

As some readers may know, I left my hometown of Wellington, New Zealand in June, and have been travelling around the USA since. I met up with Jesse from Glacier in Boston, Matt and Joe from Aviation and the War in Chicago, and now I’m staying with CJ from Ranges in Bozeman, Montana.

I feel that talking about this is on par with discussing interconnections and unity and one love and a bunch of hippy nonsense. Why don’t we all reflect on how we are vessels of creativity? But joking aside – it truly is special that I’ve managed to befriend people from around the world based on a mutual love of music.

CJ reached out to me via Twitter a few years ago asking me to review Ranges latest release. Soon after I offered him the chance to become a contributor to Will Not Fade. I’ve reviewed some of his band’s releases, and offered advice when his company A Thousand Arms released some compilations [Open Language, Hemispheres]. And now I’m staying at his house, attending his album release show, and will be accompanying his band on tour at the end of the month.

The latest Ranges album is The Ascensionist. It’s a progression from the band’s earlier works, with each song referencing a former album.

Here’s the marketing spiel:

Pre-orders for Ranges‘ new album ‘The Ascensionist’ are now available through A Thousand Arms (US) and dunk!records (EU).  This release is split into two variants with A Thousand arms carrying the 180g Milky Clear with Bone A Side/B Side variant and dunk!records carrying the 180g Bone with Orange Crush A Side/B Side variant.  Both variants come in upgraded reverse board gatefold packaging that includes a hand-numbered eight page screen-printed booklet with custom sewn binding.  Cover paper handmade by RANGES using recycled cotton and native plants from the Bridger mountainrange near Bozeman, Montana.  Also included in every vinyl order is an individually stained felt slipmat with a two color water-based screen-print.  Digital download included. 

In true A Thousand Arms style, the guys have gone waaaaay over the top. Most bands record an album, pay someone to mix and master it, and maybe order some tshirts to sell as well.

The Ranges guys:

  • Record in their own studio
  • Print their own merch
  • Screenprint the boxes they use to post said merch in
  • Printed slipmats to go with the vinyl records.
  • Hand made the very paper that they use to make a booklet that comes with each record
  • Teamed up with a local brewery to brew a beer to coincide with the album release
  • Which you can sip from a limited edition Ranges pint glass
  • Or if beer isn’t your thing, than maybe you’d prefer a special batch of coffee beans roasted to go with the album
  • And you could use one of the ceramic mugs that bassist Jared Gabriel threw to drink said coffee from

So if you haven’t concluded for yourself already: these guys are really into attention to detail aspects. They embody a DIY ethos. And their music rules.

I spent yesterday with the Ranges crew at a listening party at Badger Brewing in Bozeman. It was a great time, hanging out with the families and having pizza and beer (The Ascensionist IPA). They sold a lot of merch and albums, and at this rate they may run out of vinyl records before they get to dunk!festival. A nice worry to have.

As I said before, I’ll be tagging along with Ranges on the road during their upcoming tour. I plan on keeping a tour diary, posting photos, and covering the events at dunk!festival in Burlington, Vermont. You can follow our exploits by keeping an eye on the WNF site during October, and you can also subscribe or follow the WNF Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for updates as well.

Ranges The Ascensionist Tour

Ranges links:






A Thousand Arms:

dunk!festival USA:

dunk!festival USA Facebook event page: