Anciients – Heart of Oak
Vancouver-based Anciients have been on the sidelines of the extreme progressive heavy metal scene for a number of years, having formed in 2010. They released an EP, Snakebeard (great title), in 2011 and this year finally saw their ideas poured into full-length debut Heart of Oak (via Season of Mist). Their sound incorporates the progressive tendencies of Enslaved whilst leaning towards the bittersweet vocal lines of bands such as Baroness and perhaps Opeth. Shifting between clean lines and gruff growls, Anciients battle the light and the dark and Heart of Oak glistens with revelation, hope and coping with the upheaval of the past, particularly during final track “For Lisa,” which traverses sadness and wonder in one fell instrumental swoop.
Heart of Oak throws you in at the deep end with “Raise the Sun,” which starts the album off in shades of acoustic guitar that steadily build up into layers of sound and a rich warm current of anticipation before the track kicks in properly with sweet clean vocal lines and countering screams – both guitarists, Chris Dyck and Kenneth Cook, tear into the song with their opposing vocal approaches and as such the comparison to Enslaved is almost unavoidable here. Of course, that isn’t a bad thing because, duh, Enslaved are great, and Anciients bring their own flavours to the genre, with climbing guitar sections and extended passages of instrumental precision. Occasionally though, these long interludes can become a tad wearying and Anciients border on the excessive in terms of how much is going on within a song, but this is only a small slight on what is an otherwise impressive debut.
“Overthrone” is a wonderful early highlight, all clashing guitars and sweeping sounds and the movement found here is immediate and exciting. Lapses into slower melody carry the song into doomed territory whilst not losing sight of writing a catchy riff or two and following track “Falling in Line” deals nicely in low-down, grumbling vocal lines and tripped out electronic pulses in its closing. The instrumental interlude of “One Foot in the Light” breaks the album in half, giving some respite from the preceding harshness before “Giants” revels in more guitar work than you can shake a stick at. Again it’s all a little too much at times but Anciients pull it back with the massive “Faith and Oath” and it’s growling chorus that calls to mind High on Fire or Mastodon and glorious, uplifting harmonies.
“Flood and Fire” is a heady journey and the different sections of the track flow into each with style and aggression, the guitars attacking the senses with no cause for the effect it will have on your hearing – both gruff vocals and those huge walls of guitar feed into each other, fueling the fire of the track and twisting it onto new paths and ever-changing landscapes of sound. The previously mentioned “For Lisa” is a beautiful and solemn ode to the past and although it wouldn’t be right to comment on their possible reasons for this composition, it seems that there is a slew of emotion brimming behind Anciients work and that sadly, some people are no longer here to celebrate the uplifting hooks (and jaunty organ passages culled from 1970s psych bands) that are found elsewhere in Heart of Oak.
All in all, Heart of Oak is a delightful, catchy and electrifying debut and whilst Anciients occasionally drift into the realm of too much prog, there is certainly a lot here to like and enjoy and bang your head to. That’s more than enough to pique your interest, surely?
Check out Anciients on tour with Skeletonwitch during May/June or take a listen over at the Season of Mist bandcamp!