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Anciients - Heart Of Oak CD (album) cover

HEART OF OAK

Anciients

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.42 | 20 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
4 stars There's early Baroness and there's Mastodon's progressive side. There's Opeth and The Sword. And there's a tinge of Voivod as well as classic hard rock. And all those things together give you a pretty good idea of what Anciients sound like.

I was very interested when I heard about a progressive metal band from the Vancouver area because "progressive", "metal", and "Vancouver" are all close to my heart. As I sank my ears into the music of this, the debut album "Heart of Oak", I immediately felt all was so familiar and yet with subsequent listens I was able to pick out where the familiarity was coming from.

Anciients' songs are much like classic Opeth in that they often run from six to ten minutes in length and shift, or leap, from one riff and rhythm to another. Take a song like "Falling in Line" which begins like classic early Steve Perry Journey (I just got "Infinity" a couple of weeks before this album) with acoustic guitar that leads to a classic seventies slightly technical rock riff before the song becomes heavier. The vocals are clean and powerful, bringing to mind Dave Grohl, but then the throat-shredding howls and growls shriek into your ear drums. Abruptly, a Between the Buried & Me-type bass line emerges and percussion and guitar follow in odd meter. Towards the end, the song slows down and drops big bombs of power chords and cymbal crashes before coming to a solid conclusion. All that in 8:21.

But we need not jump directly to track three. From the onset, I found myself enjoying the songs, first, second, third, fourth and then for the fifth track a short acoustic instrumental. Anciients use acoustic guitar a few times on the album, though unlike Opeth that peppered their older albums with many acoustic interludes, Anciients stick to song intros and short instrumental tracks.

One of the things I really enjoy about the album is the diversity of influences that manifest themselves in the band's approach to writing and performing songs. There are three vocal styles: clean-like-Dave, the throat-shredder, and the Akerfeldt growl/roar. You'll catch the powerful sludge attack of Baroness's "Red Album", the thundering approach of Mastodon's "Leviathan" and more progressive "Crack the Skye", some of the stoner metal crunch of The Sword's "Warp Riders", and a lot of wonderful lead guitar work. That's one of the things that has really captured my attention about Anciients music on both of their albums, and that is the lead guitar solos. We're not assailed with meteor showers of shredded notes and not caught in the pinch and wavering whine of death metal screaming guitar notes. The guitar solos sound "felt" and inspired by some of the great hard rock and early metal solos of the seventies. There is a sense for the music which in turn seems constructed to showcase the solo.

The original album closes with a surprising spacerock instrumental. Slow and lazy with a classic space rock feel, "For Lisa" sounds more like something California's retro-space-prog Astra would have done than a heavy metal band. Some may like it; others may say it's too incongruous with the style of the rest of the album.

"Heart of Oak" is aggressive music in places, progressive music in places, retrogressive music here, and impressive almost everywhere. But don't come to Anciients looking for three-minute, steam locomotive, thunder blasts. If nine minutes of meandering music that soothes, hammers, gallops, twists, turns, and then slowly pounds is not what you have patience for then look another way.

I have only one critic of this album and that's the sound quality. It could be a little clearer to help bring out the punch more or perhaps a little grittier instead. It's hard to say because the guitars pack a wallop which could be more effective with more crunch but the technical and clean side would probably sound better clearer. Turning up the volume a bit helps the rough side anyway. My copy also has two bonus tracks, which are the two songs off the original EP "Snakebeard". The sound is a little lower in production value on these two though the songs themselves are consistent with the style of the band on nearly all of the rest of the album. Admittedly though, after recently listening to so many albums that clock by in under 35 minutes, "Heart of Oak" with the two bonus tracks seems long. I mean we're talking 74 minutes of music. This is probably best played alongside an Ayreon or Dream Theater album with "Blackwater Park" added to the playlist.

FragileKings | 4/5 |

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