ancientI haven’t listened to Ancient in years and the last album I had was ‘Night Visit’. I was going to say I’ve probably got some catching up to do now, but nope, this is the first thing Zel’s done in 12 years but the wait was worth it as this new album has plenty of subtle mood shifts on guitar by Zel and Dhilorz whilst Nick Barker’s drumming is as ferocious as ever.

Though there’s a large combination of reasons for the album taking as long as it has to reach completion, the final one is that the band are all located in rather different parts of the world so getting it all put together took some doing. But once that obstacle was overcome, we got this.

Opening track “Land Of The Dead” increases in volume with the grinding guitars joined by explosive drums and Zel’s angry roar before growls and screams are once again drowned out by a blistering lead on this rather fast paced song.

Losing nothing in the way of speed, “Beyond The Blood Moon” just adds some more melodic guitar work to the very low and gruff black metal rasps.

A battery of cymbals followed by blasting on the snare brings forth “The Sempiternal Haze” with its buzzing guitars and ambient keyboard which morphs into acoustic strumming and an eerie whispering before launching itself beck into a melee of sound.

“The Empyrean Sword” has a far more grandiose black metal sound to it as it rises and falls through its brief movements with vicious vigour.

A beautifully haunting acoustic melody builds into a heavier guitar flurry on “The Ancient Disarray” before the steady drumming blasts up a notch to give it the required aggression and choppy timing signature making the chorus rather catchy at the same time.

The simple but powerful riff running through “Occlude The Gates” acts as a backbone for the song allowing for breaks and melody changes to occur with a something to come back to, especially the rather flamboyant leads.

The next three tracks make up “The Excruciating Journey”, a song with three movements.  “Part I – Defiance And Rage” is fast and furious with its constant cymbal bashing before breaking down to gentle tapping and fluffy guitars that are soon drowned out by shouts and manic guitars, while “Part II – The Prodigal Years” is completely acoustic with a subtle tempo and whispered vocals before plenty of heavy guitars return for “Part III – The Awakening”.

Flowing from  gentle picking to rather more aggressive palm muted triplets “Death Will Die” still comes across as rather slow because the undercurrent of the main melody and long drawn out vocal roars.

The vocal melody on “The Spiral” is rather far removed from the guitar one as they compete for prominence with the choppy guitars driving the drums to follow the changes while the keyboards soar in the background.

The epic “Petrified By Their End” is a nine minute opus that goes from near stationary to frantic blasting by meandering through various plenty of moods and tempo changes but in an amazingly structured way that they don’t sound abrupt or forced, finally fading out with a huge pipe organ diminuendo.

Now that would’ve been a great ending the album, and I guess it actually was, but having the Bathory cover bonus track “13 Candles” makes it end on a much livelier tone than it would have and that’s not bad either.

(7/10 Marco Gaminara)