Gather ‘round the campfire, y’all little children; it’s story time. Once upon a golden afternoon, it can’t have been too terribly long ago, a young boy unsuspectingly stumbled into an ancient, haunted, overgrown swamp, searching for new music to indulge in. And what that boy discovered in there would, unbeknownst to him, change the way he experiences music forever. ‘But what did he find?’, you may ask. Well, on that fateful day, our young hero found Mastodon’s Crack the Skye, kick-starting his frenzied journey through the desert plains and fuzzed-out tides of sludge metal.
And that boy was, not very unpredictably, yours truly, who is now on the brink of reviewing Voice of the Void, the latest album by Canadian sludge metal four-piece Anciients. To be fair though, there’s much more to the band’s sound than just sludge, as evidenced by album opener “Following the Voice”. Of course, we have fuzzy guitars and riffs/structures heavily influenced by bands such as Mastodon or Intronaut aplenty, but also riffs that would feel right at home on a progressive death metal record, and the guttural vocals are more death/doom than anything else. And lo and behold, together with vastly improved clean vocals, these elements make for an intriguing concoction, grabbing the listener’s attention in one fell swoop.
“Worshipper” is a trip down memory lane, at least if the Leviathan-era of Mastodon has any sentimental or nostalgic value for you. After an atmospheric advent, the nearly ten minutes long epic evolves into a veritable chimera of traits, interchanging crunchy mid-paced riffing and lightning-fast assaults, while the drums gallop and carry the song forward. It’s interesting to note that, while mood and tempo change a few times throughout “Worshipper”, there’s mostly clean singing utilized. Tribal drumming announces the track’s latter portions, while the guitars drone over it. A long, blazing solo section resolves the tension created in true guitar hero fashion, before Anciients bring out their doomiest side to finish off the song.
Mellow acoustic guitars and bluesy leads make up “Descending”, by far the most relaxed song on Voice of the Void. Judging from what’s to come next, it’s merely the calm before the storm, as “Ibex Eye” is yet another shape-shifting rager that this album is so ripe with. Deceptively stoner-ish riffs lead into a very high-octane main part, only picking up more momentum with the addition of the interplay of sludge bellows and death growls. Growing more sinister after the initial rage has calmed down, the acoustic guitar returns to accentuate the somber guitarwork which leads right back into the main motif, before the fury erupts once more towards the end of “Ibex Eye”.
After a short period of absence during “My Home, My Gallows”, the acoustic guitar is back with a vengeance in the drawn-out intro to “Serpents”. Tagging along is a moody organ, enhancing the melancholic sentiment Anciients are building up. Melody and heavy riffage meet in this song, and later during its runtime, the organ returns to the fold to counterpoint the crushing guitars and provide some form of alleviation in the background. Ending on a sweet solo, this song once more exemplifies that Anciients are far from being a one-trick pony, namely through the bluesy touches in both the guitar playing and the use of the organ.
To pick up the little story I told in the introduction, Voice of the Void is a nice little chapter to add to my long and amicable history with this particular subgenre of metal. Anciients have all the trademarks that make sludge metal so extremely satisfying down, but are also able to bring some fresh elements to the table that set them apart from both their peers and the revered older bands like Down or Mastodon. Adding touches of death/doom metal and blues to the established formula, they really forged an identity for themselves. And while I wouldn’t refer to Voice of the Void as a future classic record, I can’t deny that Anciients might be able to create one of those if they are able to build on the foundation they laid on here.
Notable Tracks: “Serpents”; “Buried in Sand”; “Ibex Eye”
FFO: Mastodon, Down, The Sword