Ancient - Back to the Land of the DeadI find black metal deeply polarizing. While helplessly captivated by the cold, desolate aura of much of the genre’s higher quality output, I also find myself mind-numbingly frustrated when magnificent records are in my view ruined by intentionally dreadful production, sounding as though they were recorded not in a studio but rather in a metal bin at the bottom of a distant lake (Transilvanian Hunger anyone?). Founded in Bergen in the early nineties by frontman Aphazel, the aptly-named Ancient have been diligently plying their trade for almost a quarter of a century now, establishing a back catalogue of uncharacteristically lush-sounding black metal and recruiting a small but loyal following along the way. The band’s most recent offering Back to the Land of the Dead constitutes their seventh full-length studio album and their first new material in over 12 years, so the pressure is on for Ancient to satisfy their eagerly expectant fanbase. The question is: have they delivered?

Not entirely. Stylistically Back to the Land of the Dead is a continuation of Ancient’s established formula, which falls somewhere in the middle of an Immortal/Bathory/Khold venn diagram. Emphasis is placed on a more considered and melodic approach to black metal than is common, managing to avoid descending into the kind of tiresome shriek-fest that epitomizes the genre’s default setting. Although admirable, for this strategy to work requires a solid sense of compositional flair, and this is ultimately Ancient’s downfall. Despite the evident proficiency of individual band members as instrumentalists, the standard of songwriting is patchy at best. While punctuated with a selection of genuinely enjoyable tracks, Back to the Land of the Dead also showcases some absolute clunkers that should have been canned long before the recording studio time was booked. This leaves us with a record of near maddening inconsistency, drunkenly lapsing between the inspired and the tedious, and rendering a significant portion of the album’s 70-minute runtime more of an endurance test than a pleasure.

Curiously, the weighting of Back to the Land of the Dead is also noticeably unbalanced, with the strongest material found almost exclusively on the first half of the album, thereby painting a distorted picture of what is set to follow, building the listener’s hopes up before dropping them on their face at around the 35-minute mark. It’s not that the second half is truly terrible – goodness knows worse has been peddled as music – but it’s just not particularly interesting. The effect this has however is that when the 70 minutes are up, one’s overriding memory of the record will always be the slightly naff second half as opposed to the more formidable first, and this hardly entices the listener to dive back in for round two.

Production-wise is where Ancient excel and Back to the Land of the Dead is no exception. All of the instruments have a rounded, organic feel, there’s a satisfying crunch to the guitar tone and the pleasing absence of any of the tinny, stripped back kvlt bollockry alluded to earlier results in a record that sounds genuinely lovely. Highlights include opener “Land of the Dead,” “The Empyrean Sword” and the stomping “Occlude the Gates,” and while all of the instrumental performances are impressive, a salient nod must be accorded to journeyman drummer Nicholas Barker for his work behind the kit. Having collaborated with numerous notable acts over the course of his career, including the likes of Dimmu Borgir, Cradle of Filth and Brujeria, Barker puts in a cracking performance, marching even the weaker tracks forward with just the right measure of embellishment and flair, so as to complement his bandmates’ performances without overshadowing them. Barker is a consummate professional and a veteran of the circuit, and his work on Back to the Land of the Dead showcases his skills to a tee.

Make no mistake about it, this is a deeply frustrating album. If the quality of the entire record were up to the standard of the first half then, while it would by no means constitute a future classic, I could heartily recommend it nonetheless. As it is however, it’s simply a bit hit and miss. Existing fans of Ancient will probably lap it up, and there is genuinely plenty to enjoy, but its inconsistency is its undoing, ending with a whimper rather than a roar.


Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Soulseller Records
Websites: ancientband.netfacebook.com/ancientband
Releases Worldwide: September 16th, 2016

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  • Reese Burns

    Another newbie! Welcome to AGM, and good job on the review.

    • Ferrous Beuller

      Angry Getal Muy?

      • Reese Burns

        ..Fixed.

      • That’s our Central American affiliate.

    • Lord Lucan

      Thank you, there seem to be more newbies than staff writers at the moment!

      • Monsterth Goatom

        I believe it’s part of a plan by corporate to fire the current staff and move the production of reviews to China.

        • Lord Lucan

          What?! Steel never mentioned I’d have to relocate. I knew I should’ve read the small print. Bugger.

        • Metal outsource!!

        • Bart the Repairman

          …or to dump all the crap on the young shoulders, so that the old ones could take the proper amount of time to leisurely enjoy and carefully review some serious albums.

          Anyway, good move:D

      • [not a Dr]

        I think it’s a reactionary attempt to sabotage the Andy Metal Guy initiative by sprouting too many reviewers to bizarro-world-clone.

  • AngryMetalBird

    great review! also: poor album. doesn’t even come close to Hyperion, Mistur or the awesome Vindland debut (which hasn’t been reviewed by AMG so EXPLAIN YOURSELVES!)…

    • We were drunk.

      • AngryMetalBird

        oh…
        that’s fine than of course

    • Lord Lucan

      Thank you for the vindication, I was half expecting to get savaged by rabid Ancient fans.

      • AngryMetalBird

        avoid saying things like ‘ancient fans’. Steel is sensitive when it comes to his age…

        • Lord Lucan

          Very well, I believe ‘vintage’ is the more politically correct terminology anyway

          • sir_c

            Patina is what it’s called, methinks

        • [not a Dr]

          Recentness-challenged fans?

        • Monsterth Goatom

          Well, he is old.

          • I’m “seasoned.”

          • Hulksteraus

            Smoked Paprika?

          • [not a Dr]

            In the Abyss?

          • [not a Dr]

            And his skin is cold.

    • SuzyC

      Vindland. Thanks for the tip.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    AMG: where honorifics go to die. I remember a time when Madam was all we had. A time before the invasion of Doctors and Lords. It was a peaceful time…

    • Lord Lucan

      It’s all really part of an elaborate leftist plot to devalue such titles to the point of redundancy. We’re the champions of the proletariat.

      • André Snyde Lopes

        Well, I’m doing my doctorate studies at this very moment and I would appreciate it if you didn’t do that.

    • Monsterth Goatom

      … And a dark cloud didst appear on the horizon and spread to the far confines of this once fair land.

    • Scourge

      I think my pen name would be Lord Lord Doctor, MD just to cover the bases.

  • Grymm

    I love how the “About” page on their site is just placeholder paragraphs.

    Also, didn’t they have a dude in the band named Jesus Christ! (complete with exclamation point) at one point? Which is funny, as Zel converted to Christianity and found Jesus Christ, but lost Jesus Christ! in doing so. That last sentence was confusing.

    Anywho, great review!

    • Monsterth Goatom

      Jesus is coming! Everyone look busy!

    • That explains the John Donne reference at least. Christian Black Metal. Good. Good. The corruption is spreading.

      • Frost15

        I’m all for taking the concept christianity’s god as ridiculous as unicorns, as well as criticizing many aspects of christianity itself, actually I love to discuss about religions and that stuff, but I do like many christian themed black metal acts and I’m saddened when people look down at something merely for it being done by christians, or having christian lyrics, that’s dumb imho. I’ve met many christian metalheads which were very nice people. This ‘halo effect’ many of you display is really sad.

        • Black metal is inherently about satanic worship. So. I don’t really care if you enjoy it when Christians decide to make use of the tropes of the genre. It’s still ironic.

          • Frost15

            No genre of music is inherently about anything, that’s simply stupid. Is it ironic if an atheist plays soul? I don’t think so…

          • You don’t think it’s ironic to have an atheist do gospel?

          • Frost15

            No, I don’t think so, music is a form of expression, so I can’t accept the idea of a certain genre belonging to a certain set of beliefs, it’s completely irrational.

          • The music was developed to express those beliefs. To express the opposite beliefs in that genre is ironic. It’s the textbook definition of irony.

          • Frost15

            So, acording to you, every genre of music should be played by people who profess the same beliefs of its pioneers… I don’t want to live in that world sorry, I’m potentially losing a lot of good music.

          • I think if you ignore the history of music you’re probably not getting a lot out of it anyway. In any case no one is saying anyone is forbidden to use a genre, only that they’re being ironic. Hopefully intentionally.

          • Frost15

            Oh, I don’t ignore it for sure, I actually love to research about music. It’s one of my hobbies, and I don’t think the christians who play black metal ignore it either. I know you are not forbiding anything, but you hinted that it’s a form of corruption, when all I see is enrichment, a larger amount of material.

  • METAL OTTER

    Alas this was not the 2016 Anciients review I was wishing for but, still, what a great read!

    • That one is on the way as well.

      • METAL OTTER

        Looks like wishing upon a pentagram always works!

  • Dr. Wvrm

    Nice review Lu. Not gonna lie though, I think Transilvanian Hunger is perfect as is.

    • Ferrous Beuller

      This guy right here knows what’s up.

    • Wilhelm

      I second that

    • Lord Lucan

      What can I say? I’m a black metal pleb.

      In seriousness though, Transilvanian Beat Club did a properly produced cover of the title track and it was glorious. I don’t object to basic production but there’s a point at which I think it ruins it. Personal taste an’ all that.

      • Dr. Wvrm

        No worries, a couple more articles and an 80’s training montage later, you’ll be Lord Lvcan in no time.

      • Wilhelm

        TH is BM stripped down to the bare bones, its true essence – I used to think it was crap, but now I find it extremely important (plus analog > digital any day)

  • Treble Yell

    Great review, very well composed and tightly written. Could all of you other newbies please stop being so disgustingly talented?

    • GardensTale

      No I write good & u shut up u fagg0t lol

    • El_Cuervo

      I’m tryna keep a tab on y’all! I think I’ve identified 5?

      Exciting times.

  • GardensTale

    Yaay more newbies! I feel like I’m part of such an exclusive and wonderful group now!

    Really good review Lucan! I like your style, it reads very calmly regardless of record quality. I had trouble with the second sentence of the production paragraph, but that was the exception. I also find it a plus that you don’t do too much namedropping, because that just makes reviews bad and lazy.

  • Wilhelm

    I haven’t listened to the entire thing yet, but from what I’ve heard, it’s damn solid and the production is good. I’m glad to see some of the melodic/symphonic BM bands from the 90’s coming back with decent albums.

  • Elton Chagas

    AMG should use venn diagrams to precisely locates bands that are similar to others. I simply loved the metaphor.

    (I’m kidding…)

    (… no, I’m not.)

  • Elton Chagas

    AMG should use venn diagrams to precisely locate bands that are similar to others. I simply loved the metaphor.

    (I’m kidding…)

    (… no, I’m not.)

  • The Unicorn

    http://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/115f2371c3579db08ba59b6925fa2a52812abb5a2d1a7874cc6b980688e2f39e.png

    This embedded track is pretty sweet. But the review at two makes me blue…