Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ancient Rites - Laguz

Ancient Rites has had a long and illustrious career spanning more than two decades. Starting out as a black metal band with really early material bordering on Celtic Frost worship they seem to be overlooked when it comes to early black metal, and that's a shame because they were doing it right around the second wave was in full bloom. The future would hold something quite different for these Belgians as they went into a more epic viking metal direction starting with 1998's Fatherland and peaking with 2001's Dim Carcosa. It's been almost a decade since their last album, Rubicon, has graced our ears and finally we have their newest opus, Laguz, and man was it worth the wait.

Sometimes, you never know what you are going to get when there is such a long time between releases. It could either be really good or really bad. In the case of Ancient Rites, the result is an excellent epic metal album that picks up where the last album left off without it ever feeling like there was a nine year lull in hearing from this band. The band's consistency is due to the one constant in the band, bassist/vocalist Gunther Theys. It shows that his influence in the songwriting is all over this album. After an instrumental into we have "Carthago Legenda Est." This song is proof that, once again, we will get another history lesson from this band as this song is about the Punic wars that waged for over one hundred years in the third/second century B.C. As one would expect with this kind of lyrical content that this would be another killer epic from this band. The song is brilliant in it's epic feel as the orchestrations are real. The musician ship is just top notch here. The orchestrations are prominent but the riffs and the blast beats drive this song. Gunther's vocals are a cross between a black metal rasp and an almost narrative tone. He's telling a story set to music. The melodies in this song are quite infectious and culminate with a nice solo at the midway point in the song.

These guys also prove that you don't always have to write eight or nine minute songs to be epic as fuck. Most of the songs on this album straddle the five minute mark but seem to pack so many elements into these songs. Each one tells it's own story but the music stays within that epic theme. "Under the Sign of Laguz" brings us back to the viking age with killer blasts, serious tremolo riffs, and bombastic orchestrations. There's a lot of metal out there labeled as symphonic metal but, in my opinion, this is the epitome of symphonic metal. Less than five and a half minutes long, this song takes you on a musical journey through the ancient north lands and ancient Nordic mythology with Gunther's signature way of "narrating" the story that this song tells. It is at this point that it hits me that even the band's name matches their music. "Apostata" starts off with an almost eastern feel in the orchestrations then kicks in with the heavy guitars and some killer eastern feeling lead riffs driving the song along with the bombastic orchestrations. This is the longest song on the album and is just epic from beginning to end. There are so many elements to this song that a proper description would be pointless, let alone impossible.

"Umbru Sumus" is another song that needs mention here shut due to it's sheer brilliance. From the opening riffs you get the feeling that this song is something special. It opens with some serious tremolos and blasts but transitions to be so much more. As with every song on this album, the orchestrations are there and this song adds another layer with some prominent piano involved. This is one of those songs that just defines this band and their own special brand of epic metal that only these guys can do. This song is heavy, melodic, bombastic without being pompous or pretentious. It leads right into the last proper song on the album, "Frankenland." This song is less than four and a half minutes but seems to pack just as much bombastic epic metal as the longer songs. This song has that special something that makes it one of those songs that gives me chills while it is playing. Gunther's narrative giving us another history lesson is part of the magic that is Ancient Rites. A brief narrative over piano and acoustic guitars rounds out the album with a short song, "Fatum." It's the perfect way to end a perfect album.

Once again, this band has not let me down. There is no song on this album that is out of place or drags this album down. Each song flows to the next with precision and sheer brilliance. Hey, how can you go wrong with an album that has a photo of the original Sutton Hoo helmet as it's cover art? If you are a fan of this band and have been wondering where they've been for the last nine years, this is your answer. Does it take nine years to create perfection? Maybe it does because this album is just that, perfect.


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