When it comes to my favorite metal guilty pleasures of the past decade, Ancient Bards’ first two records have locked down a pretty sweet slot. Arriving at a time when even the first wave of Rhapsody imitators were beginning to lose relevance, the Bards fully embraced the irony of their “Ancient” moniker, injecting a well-worn formula with Power Quest-levels of sugar-coated melodies and the invigorating folk overtures of Equilibrium to formulate something that was fully cheesy, yet fully fresh. Their 2014 record A New Dawn Ending, however, was something of a minor disappointment. Though not without great moments, it was weighed down by empty, excessive symphonics, something I had hoped would be rectified given Origine‘s relatively trim 57-minute run time. As it turns out, less isn’t necessarily more if you haphazardly lop off your vital components.
Origine – The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2, much like A New Dawn Ending, begins with a disarmingly great track that hypes the listener for a much better record than they’re about to receive. “Impious Dystopia” is exactly the kind of success which proves that Ancient Bards can write a real humdinger within the confines of bloated orchestrations. It packs simple, effective guitar gallops, whiplashing rhythmic shifts, and an excellent, hook-laden performance from longtime vocalist Sara Squadrani into a mere five and a half minutes, and it’s one of the best all-around compositions the band has ever recorded. It also exhibits guitar work more complex and aggressive than we’ve heard prior (perhaps thanks to new co-guitarist Simone Bertozzi), a trait which successfully adds grittier texturing throughout the album.
Of course, sharper riffs mean little in power metal when paired with toothless hooks, and outside of “Impious Dystopia,” an utter dearth of convincing melody awaits. Characterless bombast has taken residence where Ancient Bards once wrote playful verses and exuberant refrains, with overblown orchestrations often recalling the soulless film scores of modern blockbusters with added metallic underpinnings. Sure, symphonic overload is nothing new to the Bards, but they used to utilize orchestrations to instill a brisk sense of adventure; with Origine, they come across as empty, Epica-esque theatrics. Furthering dampening the fun is an over reliance on choirs, which feel like they bogart roughly half of the vocal duties, robbing Squadrani of perfectly good opportunities to shine as the band’s driving force.
Origine is largely boring, and its overly glossy presentation is not the sole culprit. Dispassionate songwriting shoulders part of the blame, with tracks often lacking so much as a glimmer of inspiration. The one-two Valium barrage of pseudo-ballad “Aureum Legacy” and proper ballad “Light” is painfully nondescript, with “Light” in particular representing the most abysmal sort of obligatory fare that plagues mainstream symphonic metal. Thankfully, a couple of tracks managed to leave me with reasonably positive impressions. “Fantasy’s Wings” modestly impresses with a fun folk metal vibe and an actually decent chorus despite competing fiercely for the title of Lamest Lyrics Ever in a Power Metal Track. Elsewhere, the fourteen minute “The Great Divide” entertainingly plays with DGM-like prog riffs in its front-half and blackened sections on the back-end, though it unwittingly demonstrates through its confusingly disjointed nature why Ancient Bards probably shouldn’t be writing “epic” tracks.
So then, final thoughts. It’s honestly difficult to summarize my feelings for Origine when all I can focus on are its constant stream of annoyances. I could merely write it off as a disappointment and move along, or I could launch into a rant on how FUCKING annoying it is that every song on this thing refuses to reveal its chorus until after the second verse.1 Ultimately, I suppose the fact that I care to rant at all is proof enough that I still care about this band and their future; there are certainly glimmers of the band’s early golden days here, and it does not yet feel too late for Ancient Bards to right the ship. If nothing else, I hope this write-up encourages a few purchases of the band’s early material, as I’m still having a blast with The Alliance of the Kings and Soulless Child to this day. As for Origine, I foresee far fewer return visits.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps wav
Label: Limb Music | Bandcamp
Websites: ancientbards.bandcamp.com | ancientbards.com | facebook.com/ancientbards
Releases Worldwide: January 25th, 2019