Grendel has come a long way from its aggrotech roots; from the harsh and heavy sounds of the earlier material to the clean yet aggressive present, Grendel has done anything except stand still. Ascending the Abyss continues the more recent move toward a pop-oriented format, and JD Tucker has become quite adept at writing melodies and lyrical hooks, even if he does tend to use the same lyrics for the first and second verses. The songs have a similar structure to those on Age of the Disposable Body, but almost all of the aggression is gone along with any of the politics. Lyrically, it may be more personal for Tucker, but it comes out as a bit generic; divorced from Grendel’s previous work, that’s fine. It’s catchy and danceable with some great dance floor tracks like “Fire & Light” and “Glass Under Feet.” If this would have been the work of a brand new band donning the synthwave flag, this album could easily be held up as a great start to a career. But when compared against Grendel’s previous albums, it feels shallow and less significant. The songs don’t feel like they’re about anything specific except about life experiences in the most general sense. One can even feel this conflict in the album artwork – the dark, hooded figure floating about a dark split in the ground casts a huge contrast between itself, the upbeat music, and depending on the listener’s stance on ‘80s revivalism, the inclusion of synthwave elements could sway them one way or the other. Almost all of the tracks are touched by this sound to varying degrees. “Cloak & Dagger” only has it in the mandolin-like melodies, but the outro track, “Northern Line” sounds like it could have been written by John Carpenter. On one hand, it was a bit of a letdown that Ascending the Abyss seemed to step away from the purpose within Age of the Disposable Body. On the other hand, it is a good pop album that’s very listenable and easy to revisit. It can be enjoyed, even loved, but the listener must put aside any preconceived notions of what Grendel is and take the album at face value.