Sometimes potential legal battles over band names lead to the addition of “B.C.” or maybe the simple precursor “The.” In the case of Anciients it was an additional “I” smack-dab in the middle, assisting the logo’s symmetry. It was a worth-while modification for a band eager to avoid future conflict, especially when their material is so god damn good that anyone eager to suck the teet of the black-hearted cash cow might come running when this band explodes in the rock world. I don’t often think of albums in terms of future “Top Ten” list rankings but after finishing Anciient’s first full-length, Heart of Oak, I can say with as much confidence as a perpetually self-deprecating pessimist can muster that this album will be on a slew of end-of-year lists.
Heart of Oak is destined to be a word-of-mouth metal phenomenon, shared fan-to-fan with countless excited listeners anxious to blast this album into a friend’s ear with the opening plug, “If you dig [Insert Band Here] you are going to love this shit.” All band references within this review are not meant to say that Anciients are riding on coat-tails, impersonating, or even receiving inspiration from the mentioned acts, they are just the convenient reference points, the kind used when hyping a new album conversationally when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder at a bar, eager to talk about THAT album that kicked your butthole into a blackhole in the past month.
Anciients have brewed up a wily batch of songs on Heart of Oak that combine the earthy harmonies of Baroness, the slippery, progressive leanings of Opeth, and a meaty layer of metallic sludge like the blue-collar please-hold-the-horseshit crunch of Howl. Kenny Paul Cook’s clean singing sounds a bit sweeter than Baroness’ Baizley, like he gargles with honey straight from the comb. But when he screams it feels like his voice is a leaf curling in a fire, becoming this seared, gnarled pile of ash and organic membranes. He’s a fitting narrator for the expeditions detailed in Heart of Oak, where flanked by ominous acoustic passages and nimble aggression Anciients creates a world with inspiring vistas and lethal wastelands.
Between the doom-drenched lurch of “Falling in Line” and the suitably winding nine-minute highlight “The Longest River,” Anciients initiate you into the kaleidoscopic nature of their music and all the shifting shapes and colors it includes. Despite having a firm grasp on the enchanting power of melody they rarely stay in one place long, building and sustaining suspense, sort of like the movie monster who hides out of frame as long as possible as the body count grows. From the jagged black metal of “Faith and Oath” to the dope-smoking Summer of Love jam “For Lisa” (which totally sounds like they hail from Alabama instead of Vancouver), Anciients cover a lot of musical ground on Heart of Oak, and all of it with a natural, organic quality that feels excavated directly from the soil of some long-forgotten mass grave, now covered in poisonous mushrooms and moss. The energy does dip a bit in the second half of this album, but there is still so much technical prowess and songwriting skill from start to finish that this is a minor complaint. Not everything can be as symmetrical as that logo with those two gorgeous I’s.
This is the time to buy into Anciients. Support the band by seeing them on tour (on tour now, actually, on the DEATH TO ALL bill), purchasing their music and some of their beautiful merch (I’m seriously crushing on this album cover). Then, in a couple years when the trust-fund kids with hundred dollar haircuts are digging the band too, you can own the right to be smug about the fact you knew they were awesome first.
Listen to Heart of Oak over here at Bandcamp and see for yourself: http://anciientriffs.bandcamp.com/
Then visit their page at Season of Mist and put some of your rainy day money down, ‘cause it’s raining somewhere: http://season-of-mist.com/bands/anciients