Living With The Ancients
, March 16th, 2011 11:33
Of all the musical trends to come creeping back into vogue in the latter half of the last decade, a resurgence of female-fronted occult rock à la Coven could surely only have been prophesised by particularly ancient, hash-addled, longhaired haruspices. But here we are, eleven years into the new millennium, overrun with wild women singing the praises of Satan and Pan. From Sabbath Assembly to Jex Thoth, Blood Ceremony to The Devil's Blood, the witch-cult mania of the 70s has never been so popular. Even Jack White's The Dead Weather, fronted by Alison Mosshart of The Kills, have conjured up a cover of Pentagram's 'Forever My Queen', for Lucifer's sake – we're all doomed.
Canadians Blood Ceremony emerged from their mossy crypt sometime in 2006, named after the 1972 Spanish-horror film, Ceremonia Sangrienta. Seemingly born much too late, it's the year 1972 that they musically inhabit. The record's lost-in-time, unearthed 70s occult craze aesthetics sat well with the likes of labelmates Electric Wizard, who took the band on tour as their warm-up in 2009. At the Wizard's September ritual in Kings Cross that year they were the ideal appetiser for the main event; their Sabbathic progressive rock a perfect introit to Jus Oborn's megalithic guitar tones.
The band have been compared to all manner of doom metal outfits, which, although understandable from their choice in subject matter (witchcraft, occult rites, magick, devil worship out in the nightwoods), is a fairly inaccurate pointer. The band harks back far further, and has a British Vertigo label vibe, reminiscent of bands like Sabbath and Jethro Tull, rather than, say, Saint Vitus. Comparisons to 60s Chicago psychedelia merchants Coven are lazy – the most venerated ancestors of the band seem to be underappreciated flute-toting, virgin-sacrificing prog-rock shockers Black Widow. The band painstakingly recreate this melange of sounds, instantly transporting the listener to a patchouli-reeking teenage bedroom on a rainy day in 1972, with precisely no effort whatsoever to modernise.
Not that that's a bad thing. Living With The Ancients thankfully doesn't stray from the sonic elements that made the band's debut so captivating and instantly recognisable. Amid a slew of stinking bearded ne'er-do-wells playing fuzzed out doomy hard rock, they still stand out from the crowd with their over-the-top washes of Hammond organ, the soaring, soulful vocals of Alia O'Brien, and most of all, the mischievous jazzy flutework, as if played by a horned satyr in some unholy bower. While their debut managed to keep these could-be gimmick elements under control, they did sometimes feel a bit heavy-handed and overbearing. Living With The Ancients displays a band fully at ease with their rock & roll weaponry, and far more dynamic.
Side A, Track One, 'The Great God Pan', storms out of the stereo galloping on a mid-tempo riff. It's made up of equal parts muscular Sabbathian chug and psychedelic freak-out, collapsing into a miasma of Hammond and guitar interplay which spirals in a disorientating fashion, the stabs of organ bringing to mind super-heavy key-molesters of yore such as Birth Control, Atomic Rooster and of course, Thick as a Brick era Tull. It's not as anthemic as, say, the first record's 'Master of Confusion', more balls-out rock than grandiose doominess. This is true of the LP as a whole, really; they've sacrificed those lingering choruses and troglodyte guitar chords for more complex, dense, and rewarding results.
'My Demon Brother', with its Kenneth Anger-referencing title, invokes the same drug-addled Saturnalian mayhem of the experimental filmmakers' visuals. It welds a menacing yet resolutely poppy refrain to a chassis of pure acid riff, and exemplifies the new Blood Ceremony directive – doom rock you can dance to. That's the thing with this band; rather than settling with the “look around you, what you got / No hope, no future, no fucking job" mantra of despondent doom, they're firing on all cylinders to get a full on orgy happening for Satan. This is danceable, fuckable music, all the more soulful thanks to Alia's entrancing, carnal witch howls.
Sanford Parker (who plays in Buried At Sea and Minsk) is in the production chair, and, having worked magic on releases by Nachtmystium and Lair Of The Minotaur, is an eyebrow-raising choice; more experienced in harnessing Stygian metal dynamics than right-on bluesy progressive rock. He does a spot on job, though – the sound is crisp and punchy, in stark contrast to say, Black Masses by the Wizard. The quieter moments are just as well realised; 'Morning of the Magicians' features a harrowing yet pastoral and dreamy little acoustic passage, lending an expansive, cosmic element to the drifting song, while 'Witch's Dance' mimics Tony Iommi's tendency to include a little snippet of reflective instrumental to balance his Brontosaurus-subtle guitar elsewhere – it's the record's 'Orchid'.
The album is solidified by a triumvirate of seven minute plus epics – the aforementioned 'Great God Pan', 'Oliver Haddo' - the album's gleaming centrepiece, replete with macho soloing - and the mind-frazzling closer, 'Daughter of the Sun'. The latter serves as a microcosm of the LP itself, incorporating mellow passages, pounding doom, gnarled Hammond, and frenetic guitar theatrics, as well as a memorable chorus. It sums up everything Blood Ceremony have achieved with this second effort – building on the distinctive retrospective sound of their debut, they've grown confident in their convincing musical time capsule. In a climate where new throwback bands are being hyped fanatically with little work to show for it here's an example of a group consolidating its place in the pantheon of occult rock & roll with aplomb.