Sunday, October 1, 2023

Ancient - Back to the Land of the Dead (2016)

Ancient is a band that started out respectably enough, then swerved into trendy, goofball territory when they took their vampire shtick a little too far, and since that time have been in a recovery phase as they more or less returned to their roots as pure Norwegian black metal. The horror themes they've incorporated were never quite the issue, in fact I laud having bands like this one or Morgul who center in on the creepy themes, in this case Vampire the Masquerade-like mythologies of the undead, but the issue I often get is that the writing itself doesn't always translate those aesthetics so well into sound. Sadly, Back to the Land of the Dead does suffer a little from sounding too basic for its genre.... lyrically, this could be about Vikings, Satan, or walks through nature and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference...the scary themes are almost entirely restricted to the lyrics themselves.

The main force behind this particular record is Nick Barker's drumming, which is an absolute powerhouse that almost drowns the rest of the album with its intensity. As Ancient have always drawn comparisons to Cradle of Filth, it's only fit that the British alumni winds up in the studio ranks, and as you will hear through the blasting and kicks is that the man still quite 'has it', but beyond that he even grafts in some nice beats and fills to the albums more atmospheric segues (as in "The Sempiternal Haze"), which is cool because they'd be exceedingly bland otherwise. Most of the actual riffing here is entirely too predictable, a bevy of chord-driven grooves you've heard from the Darkthrone or Mayhem school, or the bleeding, faster patterns which unfortunately just don't provide memorable riffs like you'd remember from Emperor or Dissection or any of that lot. In fact I think the sound here overall seems like a midway point between Marduk and Bathory, with some decent thrashing breaks like the intro to "The Ancient Disarray".

Vocals have a good, rasping decay on them and occasionally a little reverb on the right spot which sends them soaring above the nightmarish landscape the band is attempting to concoct. Alas, too few of the rhythms guitars sound appreciably evil; without the army of zombies on the cover art, the title, you wouldn't even guess at the lyrics, which are actually one of the strong points of the release. I'd also say that the production is one of their strongest, especially on the drums and the rhythm guitars as they are churning out some of their lower string riffs. It's a muscular, tireless record, but the regret is just that it doesn't have much interesting to speak, so much of the material plays out exactly as you think it will before the guitar phrase has even ended for the first time. If you want a beefy, traditional Norse BM catapulting through the backdrop of your life, then Back to the Land of the Dead is acceptable, and far better than some of their later 90s offerings, but ultimately doesn't stick its fangs out too far.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

No comments: