Svart Records is a bastion of strange Finnish acts, and Jess and the Ancient Ones is one of the strangest. Starting with the same 70s occult rock indulged in by Ghost and Jex Thoth, they add in surfer rock and more than a little tripped out psychedelic acid rock to arrive at something altogether different. Their sophomore platter Second Psychedelic Coming: The Aquarius Tapes, is a wildly trippy, genre slashing journey and one you most definitely need to take. You see, as strange and varied as their influences may be, this band excels at writing kick-ass, rocking songs that take the best parts of several genres and stitch them together into audio Frankensteins. Said monsters then sally forth to smash the townships within your ears and send your little ear wax villagers running for the hills. Imagine an album with roughly the same wacked out vibe as White Zombie‘s La Sexorcisto: Devil’s Music, Vol. I, but with more acid, surfboards and Grace Slick on vocals. Now, you’re getting somewhere!
As La Sexorcisto was laden with odd soundbites from Grade D 60s/70s cult cinema, so Second Psychedelic Coming is loaded with even weirder sound clips from Lord knows where. These, along with the truly strange instrumentation gives the material a herky-jerky, unsteady feeling that really grabs a listener’s attention. If you partied with the Manson Family, this is what you’d be listening to. Opener “Samhain” blows the doors out with Devil worshiping soundbites alongside straight up Dick Dale surf rock. It’s undoubtedly hard rocking and sucks you in, coming across across like Danzig meets White Zombie meets Jex Thoth. It’s a wondrous concoction and a late entry for Song o’ the Year which an anonymous AMG staffer described as “Ghost if they were more interesting and had a good singer.”
There’s some super cool Hendrix funk and boogie on “The Flying Man” mixed with a rich, emotional, 60s-centric vocal performance by lead woman, Jess as things gel perfectly to put the music over. “The Equinox Death Trip” is just a brilliantly conceived, hard rocking tune – something like a Danzig and The White Stripes collaboration – and it’s easily one of the coolest, most engaging and enjoyable songs I’ve heard in a long time. “Crossroad Lightning” starts off like an old timey southern chain gang work song, full of simmering discontent and emotion before blossoming into a more linear and groovy love song with excellent vocals from Jess. This one will stick with you, and it could fit in seamlessly on the latest Avatarium album, as both bands mine the same 60s rock genre aggressively. Elsewhere, The Doors influence comes on strong during “Goetia of Love,” complete with those weird, carnival keyboards Ray Manzarek adored so much.
The 22-minute closer, “Goodbye to Virgin Grounds Forever” is the kind of lava lampy song you put on and just drift along with on a happy, happy cloud. If we gave Bean Bag Chair Ratings, this baby would be an 8.5/10. That said, it does torpedo the album’s aggressive, cracking momentum. And yeah, I know it’s supposed to be long and spacey for pharmacological reasons, but 22 minutes is a bit too long, even if the song is interesting for most of its run-time.
While marrying hippie flower power music to witch’s covens and devil worship has been done by acts like Sabbath Assembly, what Jess and the Ancient Ones do here is much more fun. Jess has a really great voice and reminds me a lot of Avatarium‘s Jennie-Ann Smith. Like her, Jess has a certain jazzy-inflected swing to her style and it goes exceedingly well with the fuzzy, odd music the band wraps her in. Her powerful singing cuts through the haze created by the album’s atmosphere, commanding attention even in the middle of the multi-layered shit show things become at times. She really impresses on every cut but her performance on “Crossroad Lightning” is particularly memorable. Thomas Corpse and Thomas Fiend add much with their eclectic guitar noodling. From surf rock riffs to far out space and acid rock, they bring the whole toolbox to the party and get themselves good and greasy. The keys by Abraham are also integral and impressive. He creates all sorts of weird moods and vibes spanning the 60s and 70s and without his contributions this would be way less interesting.
This album almost didn’t get reviewed due to time constraints, but just one listen to the opening track and it leaped into the “must review” pile. Without a weak moment, this is one of the most oddly enjoyable albums you’ll hear this year, and you should probably own it on vinyl for trvness points. Unique, captivating and bizarre, even if you don’t own a black light or beaded curtains.