It’s not entirely unusual to see a metal band with an established sound take a left turn into new sonic territory. Adding a new subgenre tag, incorporating a synthesizer, or mixing up the songwriting playbook are fairly common, and often welcome. It’s a bit unusual, however, to see a band change genres entirely for a record. Wolves In the Throne Room did it with 2014’s Celestite, an expansive ambient journey that was as unexpected as it was rewarding. Fast forward to the present and we have German stalwarts Ancst attempting their own form of genre alteration with Celestial. Eschewing the blackened hardcore/crust found in this year’s Ghosts of the Timeless Void, the band instead opt for a dark ambient approach, creating a sonic world that is as bleak as it is beautiful. It’s a fantastic example of a band knowing what sounds exist within its wheelhouse, and having the courage to explore those fringes to their utmost extent. The result is one of the most interesting albums in their discography.
While Wolves In the Throne Room is a great launching point for genre-hopping, Celestial pulls a bit more deeply from Lustmord and Darkspace than it does from the Cascadian giants’ ambient work. This is a decidedly darker affair, focusing more on bass-heavy sounds and electronic music motifs than live instrumentation. Opener “Cave Beneath the Dying City” sets the tone perfectly, and feels like it could have been pulled directly from a Hans Zimmer score. There is most definitely a cinematic quality to the music on this record, and I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if the band took the M83 route and wrote some film scores in the future. But it’s not all doom and gloom on Celestial. “Clandestine Path” incorporates a lighter, more ethereal sound palette that shirks away from the predominant darkness that pervades most of the record, highlighting the small breaks in the dark clouds above, allowing the light of the cosmos to bleed through. It’s a welcome reprieve from some ominous music, and throughout the remainder of the record Ancst do a good job balancing out the lightest and darkest sounds of their career, culminating in the sheer hopelessness of finale “Endless Marsh”. Light. Dark. Hope. Fear. It’s all here on this unexpected gem of a record.
If you enjoy listening to bands take big risks, Celestial will tickle your fancy even if only on an academic level. If you enjoy electronic and dark ambient music, this record will enthrall you. Either way you slice it, Ancst took a big risk with Celestial, and in doing so have given listeners a great reward. It’s fantastic. Go listen.