A good friend of mine posted an image a while ago that read: “your favorite band did not save your life, you did”. It struck a great chord within me, since music is such a huge part of my mental health. There were times when it was one of my only threads, keeping me going inside the void of emotions that is so often characteristic of depression. It kept me company through long nights working a challenging job, while other parts of my life were falling apart around me. One of these bands was Ancestors; discovered on YouTube in the middle of the night, their unique take on doom, injected with so much emotion and progressive ideas, was like nothing I had ever heard before.
I fell deeply in love with the albums which were most recent back then, 2012’s In Dreams and Time and 2011’s Invisible White. The latter was an exploration of their progressive rock influences, especially Pink Floyd, while the former was those influences made manifest inside doom metal; to this day, I contend that In Dreams and Time is perhaps my favorite doom album of all time. There’s a reason that Ancestors spoke to me so powerfully and it lies in the “catch and release” model that draws me to doom metal (and post-rock) until this day; something in how emotions move within me is spoken to directly by the building of tension in music, the contrast between slow rise and crescendo. And, coincidentally, that is exactly what sets Ancestors apart from other doom bands. The amount of contrast in their music, the rise and fall of their albums and tracks, is their strongest attribute.
Their upcoming release, titled Suspended in Reflections and the first in six years (six long years, spent in thinking they were gone), is nothing short than a masterclass in how to build such tension and release it effectively. At first, the rise and fall of “Gone” seems self-sufficient; all of the Ancestors staples here. First, the vocals are their echoing, central self, always a huge part of Ancestors’ sound. The merging of tracks along the choruses gives them a larger than life feeling. And they have to be, to contend with the way Ancestors approach guitars. Like the vocals, everything about them is extrapolated into echo. Those echoes play in between themselves. When the main chords of the riffs crash in the background, the lead guitar adds embellishment to those, hooking up into their feedback and creating the massive soundscape that is Ancestors’ approach to doom before taking off on their own, multi-layered explorations of the sound. The synths which come after them feed on that energy as well and bring it back into the lows, another approach to the “valley” after the momentous peak of the track proper.
As “Gone” ends, the larger flow of the album becomes apparent; there’s no break between it and the following “Through a Window”. Looking past that “obvious” breadcrumb and listening to the track itself, to the way it unfolds and builds on the momentum left it by “Gone”, we are again acquainted with that over-arching dynamic. Internally, “Through a Window” is built much in the same way; it has a calmer intro, which then rises towards a peak near the middle, before crashing back down into ambient guitars. But the height of that crescendo, the degree of emotion expressed within it, is what makes it really interesting; the track builds on the one just gone (get it?) and sounds all the more epic, emotional and crushing for it. Even if the music is similar, by using clever callbacks and a building mood, Ancestors keep us not only intent and listening but also take us constantly “beyond” ourselves and our borders of emotion. “Through a Window” seems to look back at “Gone” and say “oh, you thought that was massive? Wait until you hear this one”.
Thus, I contend to you that the album as a whole is actually one “meta-track”, like many of Ancestors’ work before it. “Gone” is the intro to “Through a Window”‘s middle, with “Lying in the Grass” being a”valley” for those two and so on, until the inevitably tremendous closing. And, indeed, that track is the calmer and more restrained of the three, channeling Invisible White‘s prog-rock vibes. It opens with a vocoder and, while it does have its own crescendos, seems like a much more soothing track than the last two. Which makes sense because, in essence, it’s their closer, soothing us with more introspective moods before the album returns to its heights of expression. All the tracks are their own creations and you can listen to all of them separately. But when listened to together, the true genius of the album shines through, the completeness of the emotional journey that Ancestors take us on.
And we’re, of course, only in the middle of the album. Ancestors could have simply duplicated that structure and called it quits, making a perfectly fine doom metal album. But instead, the second triplet of seconds continues to build on the original sonic ideas and further nails them home; the riffs pile on riffs, the synths duplicate among themselves and the mood resounds internally, multiplying with repetition. But it’s not simple cloning, repetition for the sake of that “crushing” sound that many dooms bands turn to. It’s repetition on a theme, on timbre and tone, a constant re-exploration of sound. It is achieved through the ambient weirdness of the transitional “Release”, or the way “The Warm Glow” seems to slow things just a bit more, leaving us with the feeling of that lingering warmth, while still speaking with the album’s previous tracks.
Suspended in Reflections is another fantastic album from a doom band that realize that repetition is not enough. Just like the endlessly returning themes of In Dreams and Time (and, indeed, the closing notes of the marvelous “First Light”), just like the twisting pathways of Invisible White and the crushing dolmens of their earlier releases, the ideas of Suspended in Reflections grow as they return, increase as they come back to us, reflected off of the distance we have already crossed in the album. This makes Ancestors so much more than just crushing heaviness; it makes them interesting, intricate, progressive and rewarding to the frequent listener. And that’s why they helped me save myself; their music helps me meet myself, to return to myself, to be acquainted with my emotional depths and to channel them into something great, into music which makes life easier to cope with. That, for me, is the great power of doom metal done well: it looks our most dramatic, powerful and bewildering emotions square in the face and says “I’m bigger than you. I will outlast you. You will work for me. We are in this together”.
Ancestors’ Suspended in Reflections releases on August 24th on the mighty Pelagic Records. Do yourself a huge favor and head on over to their Bandcamp link above to pre-order it. You won’t regret it.