Ancient Mastery – Chapter One: Across the Mountains of the Drämmarskol [Things You Might Have Missed 2021]

You’re going to be bombarded by TYMHM vying for your attention in the coming days/weeks, so here’s the elevator pitch for Ancient Mastery’s debut, Chapter One: Across the Mountains of the Drämmarskol (CO:AtMotD): one man black metal band meets dungeon synth, but synth straight from “The Final Countdown.” Throw in a story about journeys and wizards, and a cover ripped straight from Paysage d’Hiver, and the signs are about as promising as a great deal from Honest Hal’s Used Motors. Perhaps this is why it slipped under many a radar (it was also released in January, and memories are fickle). But you’re going to see this on a few end-of-year lists, so trust me: this is great stuff, elevator pitch be damned.

Ancient Mastery is one of Austrian artist Erech Leleth’s many projects. Chapter One is the first of four purported albums and it works as well as it does for several reasons. The first is that it manages to use its medium to create real emotional resonance. The 80s-style synths could have been unbearably cheesy, but instead, they are incorporated miraculously into the compositions, blending with furious black metal in a way that may initially feel jarring but soon becomes wholly organic and believable. This seamless integration manages to make the tracks feel both more expansive and more personal at the same time. Opener “To Valdura” absolutely has the aura of the beginnings of an epic journey, with the synths triumphantly setting the stage. By the midpoint of “The Majesty of Aztara,” the synths switch to calm introspection, overlaid by shoes crunching through snow, and it is spellbinding. This trick is repeated throughout Chapter One, with the melody highlighting not only the grand, massive moments, but the quieter, more cerebral ones as well.


The other great strength of the album is the quality of its compositions. Leleth is clearly experienced and talented, but the theme of Chapter One keeps it focused and coherent. This is melodic black metal telling a dramatic story, and it does so with aplomb. Tracks bring the atmosphere, but never at the expense of dynamism and unpredictability. Tracks flow and swirl but never become unmoored or lost. And while there is fury and shrieking, there are also more than enough moments of genuine beauty and wonder. This is best emphasized by “The Passage,” which shifts between black metal, harps, uplifting synths, and quality riffs all within a few astonishing minutes.

Sure, there are nit-picks here and there, and this is still niche music for a select audience. But for those of us who grew up in the 80s, those synths are a nostalgia overload. If you’re a cold-hearted soul who isn’t into them, however, Chapter One may not be for you. For all other black metal fans, this is a melodic, compelling, fascinating album from a fantastically talented artist. It’s also one of the better albums of 2021. I can’t wait for Chapter Two

Tracks to Check Out: “To Valdura,” “The Passage.”

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