Last week, we ran a less than favorable review of Opeth‘s latest album. Our major grievance with the album was the way in which it handled its influences and its relationship to them. Rather than a homage, we felt, Sorceress was closer to a rip-off, and a boring one at that. Nothing was new or interesting and, thus, had little excuse to exist beyond the band pleasing themselves and making the music they like. In case the point we were making about the importance of innovation mixed with admiration for past giants wasn’t clear, Anciients have arrived to exemplify that point. Voice of the Void is nothing less than a masterful exercise in reiteration, looking back at years of progressive death metal progress, picking and choosing the influences which it desires to highlight. A huge step up from the already excellent Heart of Oak, Voice of the Void refines the Anciients formula and delivers it with ease, expertise and agility.
The main influence, undeniable and inalienable, which casts its light on this album is Mastodon. But this is no drawn out, somber, progressive stoner album. This is the light and the fury and the thunder of Blood Mountain, fractured through the lenses of all that’s passed since that time. Take “Worshipper” for example, the third track. After the slower, more abrasive, “Buried in Sand”, “Worshipper” is all fangs, blood and gore. After an admittedly ponderous opening (which cleverly ties it to the track preceding it), it serves up an engaging chorus which should be familiar to any Mastodon fan. The guitars go melodic and fast, running across scales and riffs to an equal, massive degree. Underneath them runs relentless bass, like Iron Maiden on methamphetamines, large, mean and ready to swallow you whole.
The vocals however, are where the largest improvement is felt, both in Anciients trajectory and the overall vector of the genre. The cleans are incredibly moving, across the album, utilized to set the heart a-beating when the chorus calls for it. The growls are deep and thunderous, recalling the glory years of the hinted at Mikael Akerfeldt. Together, they’re the linchpin which ties many of the albums varied and complex structures that adorn the album. And it can get complex; “Ibex Eye” for example, further down the album, is a warp and weft journey through stoner-drenched riffs. It’s start is aggressive enough, a drawn out intro which sets the stage for the just-shy of ten minutes run time. The bass here is more varied, leading the charge for repeating and interrelated riffs. A middle part returns to the slow build-up of the beginning before erupting into a furious outro, some of the heaviest moments on the album.
All across it, and culminating at the end, are weird, electronic screeches, like a turn table being torn apart. Thus, Anciients introduce new sounds and ideas into the progressive death/stoner fold. This is a genre we all know; there’s no shortage of bands working within it. But the power of Voice of the Void isn’t in departure or outré innovation. Instead, it’s in exactly the opposite, the idea of varied return which we have been exploring on the blog these past few weeks. By sticking true to what makes them work, by being honest with their influences, Anciients win accessibility, engagement and pure thrill. But by seeing through the cracks in the armor, by asking their beloved genre some tough questions and giving harder answers, they also rise above the fold into greatness. They’re more than just fans who make music; they’re curators who love their field and aren’t afraid, motivated by that love, to look harder at what makes it work, what needs work and what must be excised.
Anciients’ Voice of the Void will be available October 14th, 2016 on Season of Mist. Pre-orders are available right here.