Ancient Empire – Priest of Stygia Review

Ancient Empire have been banging out classic, trve heavy metal albums since 2014, yet they’ve landed scandalously little exposure from AMG. I intended to cover their 2016 Other World outing but time got the best of me.1 We gave a TYMHM to 2017s The Tower, but whiffed on their 2019 follow-up. I will not let this string of injustices continue! This week sees the release of their sixth album Priest of Stygia, and the state of the Empire is strong. Rocking a vintage US power metal sound that can be described as Judicator meets Diviner and Visigoth, these old school warriors deliver ballsy, slightly epical traditional metal with a no-nonsense approach that’s refreshing and direct. Frilly Euro-candy this is not. The riffs are beefy and meaty, the drumming is war-like and the vocals are full of vim and vigor rather than helium and whimsy. They even serve up a Conan the Barbarian theme this time out for extra testosterone and sword fondling points. Now you must ask yourself an important question: Do you want to live forever?

I do, but that’s neither here nor there. What’s important is that opener “Immortal” hits you right in the gob with a mail-studded fist to kick off the fight festival. It’s classic 80s power with hints of Pharaoh and Judicator and a premium on battle-ready riffage and the rugged, gritty vocals of Joe Liszt. There’s a hearty, rough sound to the music and there are just enough hooks to get you involved and ready to rumble. “Beyond the North Wind” is an album high point, sporting a mighty feel and sturdy riffs that brook no bullshit. This one is major Manofun and destined to join the lifting playlist of Steel. There are several more high-level rabble-rousers here, like the aggressive, Visigoth-esque fury of “Nine Worlds,” which will get your sword arm moving and your morning star grooving. Liszt outdoes himself here with an extra macho delivery that elevates the whole melee enchilada to a higher plane of combat. “Every Man My Enemy” is another razor-edged tune with slashing riffs designed to get the plasma flowing and they do their work with brutal efficiency.

While there are no bad songs or anything close to what I’d call filler, a few tracks lack the adrenaline-rich blood mania of the best moments. The title track is solid if a bit restrained and understated and “Island of the King” feels as if it’s about to unleash some stunningly epic moment that never quite arrives, though the song is engaging nonetheless. These quibbles aside, the album plays well as a whole and at just under 40 minutes, it’s a concise slab of power and glory that travels well and should age nicely too. The sound is respectable, with the guitars leading the charge, and the bass is allowed its own space to shine and it maintains a reliable presence that even the thunderous drums cannot usurp.

Joe Liszt is a trve metal titan, also helming the impressive Shadowkiller. Here he handles vocals, guitar, and bass and does all jobs well. His voice is gritty and seasoned but he can hit all the necessary notes and shows a respectable range too. He’s ideal for this kind of metal and injects a good amount of passion and gravitas into the material. His guitar work is impressive and he’s quite talented at conjuring chest-thumping old school riffs that excite nostalgia in olde heads like myself. Cederick Forsberg, leader of the pirate crew in Blazon Stone, shows up not to sack the Empire, but to pay tribute with solos on five of the tracks, and his contribution is a plus. There’s a certain classic metal polish and vibe to the material but things never feel outdated or too painfully retro.

Priest of Stygia is another solid release by Ancient Empire, sitting right on the cusp of good and very good. It will get plenty of play in the coming months and some tracks will be immortalized in my dungeon gym ov i-rhun. If you need a dose of classic metal with a rancorous attitude and a fast blade, this will get the job done. The Empire will endure.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: StormSpell Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 15th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. It’s quite good, in case you were wondering.
« »