Heavy, heavy stuff indeed and undeniably central to the vitality of metal music.
Metal music, in 2016, does not need saving, but if it were in need of a firm (and gritty) reboot Anciients might be just the action hero we were all waiting for. Having unleashed its first album, Heart of Oak, unto the world just a mere three years ago, the group returns, drawing from a broad range of heavy styles. One can see how some would saddle the Canadian unit with the progressive metal tag: there are some twisty, turn-y technical moments though nothing that overrides the dominant tendency to strike the match and burn with feel-intensive riffs and rhythms that sometimes summon primordial memories of Ride the Lightning-era Metallica mixed up with something more sinister (and more musically accomplished).
The second track on this effort, the 10-minute and change “Buried in Sand” serves as a grand tour of what Anciients does best: Hairpin changes in mood and tempo, guitars that both seer and simmer and drum and bass parts that wind their way into the very fabric of the tune, rising and falling with as much intensity of the growl/clean juxtaposition of the vocals. Sure, there are some listeners who will suggest that this track is the epitome of Anciients’ progressive metal style but others will argue that whatever the quartet is up to hasn’t quite been named yet.
Maybe that’s where the real fervor over the group comes from. There’s a newness here, a sense of exploration that has nothing to do with forsaking palm-muted riffs for post-rock picking; rather, it comes in finding new ways to express those fundamental elements of metal, a way of making the guttural sound as brazen and brilliant as it did round about 1987, to make Euro-style harmonies seem not like something cribbed from NWOBHM but something vital and capable of sending your incisors skating across the room for no reason at all.
“Worshiper,” all nine minutes of it, strikes us upside the head and, in certain passages, explores the kind of anti-music that Voivod got up to on its early, classic releases. There are moments when we can’t be sure if what we’re hearing is propelling us or about to slip into mere noise. Then? Blam! We’re thrust into the piece’s most technical, most bright-burning part, witness to all the technical prowess and wildly imaginative composition we can handle.
Nothing could probably prepare us, though, for the deliciously doomy intro of “Pentacle,” wherein it seems entirely possible that Anciients could make time stop once and for all and convince us all to gaze deep into the most sinister places of our own souls and like it. All this before we’re guided through highly melodic, undeniably empowering vocal passages before the low/high counterpoint takes hold again and we know not whether we’re in the province of the safe or the condemned or, frankly, if it matters.
Relentless in its pursuit of metal mastery, the group finds time to deliver two undeniable future classics via “Ibex Eye.” It’s nearly 10 minutes of progressive metal mastery that finds the listener begging for a way to see this quartet live, to witness the blood and brutality firsthand while trying to comprehend how something this heavy doesn’t completely destroy the earth and send it sailing, once and for all, into the blackest of voids. Its successor, “My Home, My Gallows” begins with a fierce, frosty guitar barrage that summons memories of Immortal while managing to lose none of the patented intensity one hears elsewhere. Even “Serpents,” a nod to classic British heavy rock (think Deep Purple) takes nothing away from the frightening capabilities on display here.
Yes, the metal world sees its share of bright hopefuls on a yearly if not weekly basis but it seems entirely possible that Anciients, with its wide musical reach and deep commitment, could be one of those acts we’re still talking about excitedly in five or ten years’ time. If nothing else, we’ll still have this record, every second of it, to remind us of a time when one band stepped up and defied the odds by delivering music that could still excite us at a time when we’d become convinced that we’d heard it all. Heavy, heavy stuff indeed and undeniably central to the vitality of metal music.