Sometimes when bands have lengthy breaks between albums, it’s easy to forget them. Case in point: Ancestors, whom I had forgotten all about until Suspended in Reflections showed up in our August list. A quick dig through my music library showed me why the name was familiar: their 2012 album, In Dreams and Time, was one of my favorites of the year, a truly stellar piece of art that, had I been reviewing back in those days, would have been a front-runner for Record o’ the Month. In Dreams and Time was a captivating and progressive mix of doom, psychedelia, and post-metal, a gargantuan release that played out both delicately and intensely. Now, six years later and following much upheaval within the band, Suspended in Reflections lands on our doorstep. What will it bring us?
The upheaval mentioned comes in the form of three of the former five members having departed, leaving us with guitarist Justin Maranga and keyboard player Jason Watkins. They are joined by Daniel Pouliot behind the drum kit, and this new lineup has approached the writing process for Suspended in Reflections with, as they say, a complete lack of ego. This pure collaboration ultimately comes through in the song structures, with no individual the focus of the album. But this is something that wasn’t immediately obvious: my first casual listen was underwhelming, to say the least, and I was already mentally penning my Disappointment o’ the Year blurb. Turns out, Suspended is an album that requires multiple focused listening sessions if you want to get the feel for it. A half-dozen listens in and I was on board with what Ancestors were trying to accomplish.
Much like a cross between Pink Floyd and Pallbearer, with hints of King Crimson and YOB thrown in, Ancestors make music for the very patient. This is not an album to play in the background if you want to appreciate it. On the surface, “Gone” is a by-the-numbers doom/post-metal number, but finer details emerge upon close listening. Harmonies in both vocals and guitars ebb and flow, and the layers of keys and guitars give the song a thickness (and towards the end, a delicacy) that is more textured than is immediately apparent. “Into the Fall” opens with a crescendo before settling into a brilliantly executed apocalyptic dirge that, with its violins, is reminiscent of King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. “Release” begins with two minutes of ambiance—washes of square waves, soothing yet eerie string patches, hints of a massive pipe organ moaning just beneath the surface—before transitioning to a jazzy stand-up bass solo at the midpoint, then back into ambiance.
Suspended in Reflections is a study in contrasts, especially when compared with In Dreams and Time. While both albums contain six songs, the 66-minute runtime of the older one has been cut down to 36 minutes here. True, less is more, but the long songs were so well done that the length was just fine. Some of the ideas on Suspended could have used a bit more marination, more time to develop within the song structure; it’s what this style of music lends itself to. Suspended also seems less ambitious than In Dreams, at least superficially: shorter songs, no guest musicians (Carah Faye’s vocal on “The Last Return” was wonderful), and sparser instrumentation. Digging into the songs reveals meticulous arrangements, however, and a level of nuance that didn’t exist on In Dreams, so there’s a trade-off at play here.
With song titles like “Lying in the Grass” and “The Warm Glow,” we might expect some pretty mellow music that would be the perfect accompaniment to, well, lying in the grass, and that’s what it seems Ancestors had accomplished at first. But a deeper dive into Suspended in Reflections revealed an album full of wonderful subtleties waiting to be discovered—and still, a dozen listens in, more come to light. While In Dreams and Time remains the band’s zenith, Suspended is an album for the band to be proud of, and well worth the investment in time it takes to get under its skin. Let it get under yours.