Canada’s Anciients stormed the scene with their promising Heart of Oak debut in 2013, an intoxicating if at times derivative mix of stoner, sludge, and prog. It was an enjoyable album, though it didn’t quite blow me away like it did many others. Nevertheless, my interest was certainly piqued enough to be excited by the band’s long-awaited return with the all important album number two. Right from the get-go something is different in the Anciients camp. It’s evident early on and certainly throughout the album’s 67 minutes. Voice of the Void is a significantly darker, heavier, more urgent and original creation than Heart of Oak. The ingredients haven’t changed all that much musically, with the band still crafting interesting and angular prog and sludge-infused metal, complete with rousing guitar pyrotechnics, catchy melodies and contrasting dual vocals. Although I found the stoner elements from the debut quite solidly executed, this time, Anciients have stripped much of the fuzz away, dropping some of those obvious nods to early Baroness, Mastodon, and Kylesa that led them to be pigeon-holed by critics of Heart of Oak.
Voice of the Void sounds very much like Anciients have chiseled their sound over the past several years to arrive at this exciting shot of adrenaline-fueled prog-metal. An exhilarating rhythmic intensity, confident songwriting and more adventurous guitar interplay immediately identifies Voice of the Void as a more original, complex piece of work, featuring a strong emotional pull and excellent musicianship. As intricately composed and constructed as much of Voice of the Void is, there’s an overall accessibility to the material that keeps the hooks flowing. Longer tracks like the shape-shifting “Buried in Sand” are well equipped with interesting twists and catchy moments so that individual song length is rarely a major problem. “Buried in Sand” is particularly involving and ambitious, developing from its heavy beginnings, propelled by the tight and energetic chops of drummer Mike Hannay, into a brooding, melodically vocal driven psych-prog odyssey. The violent imagery depicted in the lyrics sounds a little odd delivered with such laid-back clean singing, but the hooks are irresistible.
Anciients haven’t jettisoned all the Mastodonisms, sometimes sounding like a darker and heavier relative to Crack the Skye; progressive tendrils exploring the vast outskirts of the band’s driving sludge metal foundation. Fortunately, the impressive form of guitarists/vocalists Kenneth Cook and Chris Dyck generally separates Anciients further from their influences. The duo’s guitar work is excellent throughout, crafting some killer riffs, wonderfully bombastic solos and an array of interesting harmonies and shades of psychedelia. Further mixing things up, the versatile cleans and growls deliver ample vocal variety. Strong points aside, not everything about Voice of the Void is hunky dory. Here’s where I broach the often touchy subject of album length. As previously mentioned Voice of the Void weighs in at a hefty 67 minutes. It’s no deal breaker, however bloating does occur and tighter editing and shedding some fat would have created a more cohesive and leaner package, while several sequencing choices don’t work for me. Case in point being the momentum-halting mid-album lull, as the pretty but disposable interlude “Descending” feeds into a rather uninteresting extended intro on the otherwise impressive Tool meets Mastodon march of “Ibex Eye.” Meanwhile, “My Home, My Gallows” is full of energy and aggression, but feels a tad derivative and forced overall.
While Anciients can find success in the longer song formats, they excel in punchy form as well. Proggy, sludgy and downright rocking, “Pentacle” is a tentacled riff machine, boasting another excellent drum performance, some of the album’s stronger heavy moments and more catchy vocal melodies. Similarly impressive, “Serpents” has a wonderfully subdued, melancholic intro and keeps things downbeat and doomy with the belting clean singing a real highlight. Unfortunately, though polished and slickly recorded, Voice of the Void suffers from severe compression, compromising the dynamics of the songwriting and flattening the album’s sonic impact. With music so dynamic this really is a major hindrance on the album.
Voice of the Void is a classic case of an album featuring an abundance of great moments that doesn’t quite translate into a great album. Some bloated moments, momentum lags and the sub-par mastering job hold this otherwise accomplished and frequently enjoyable sophomore album from reaching its full potential, resulting in a very good album that could have been so much more.