Living with the Ancients
posted on 4/2011 By:
The sophomore album from Toronto’s most devout late 60s/early 70s acolytes Blood Ceremony is probably one of those propositions where you already know where you stand. Either you’ve been digging the near-glut of female-fronted occult rock groups – see Jex Thoth, The Devil’s Blood, Royal Thunder, etc. – or you’re fed up. Living With The Ancients is unlikely to change your opinion either way, but it’s a gloriously warm love letter to the fertile soils that bore witness to the willful cross-pollination of blues, rock, proto-metal and folk more than forty years back.
The single greatest asset of Living With The Ancients is its phenomenally warm production, particularly on the drums. The snare is so perfectly chunky – half-loose but full of swing and shuffle – that I just want to go give it a giant man-hug. The vocals aren’t nearly as stand-out as with Jex Thoth, and mercifully these vintage chasers don’t seem to take themselves quite as deadly serious as The Devil’s Blood, but this could just as easily be your new groove if you get all wistful and (bong-)hazy over your Jethro Tull and Uriah Heep albums. (Honestly, with this organ tone, I keep wanting to climb a neon mountain and shout at the top of my lungs, “Rainbow demon!”)
Frontwoman Alia O’Brien’s vocals suit the style without being superlative, but the real boon to Blood Ceremony’s sound is that O’Brien also supplies plenty of vintage organ, plus enough classic flute (generally playing some variation on or interaction with whatever the guitar’s doing) to give Ian Anderson twelve erections. See “Coven Tree,” “The Hermit,” and “Daughter Of The Sun” for some of the dreamiest flute licks this side of, shit, Circulus? Still, Blood Ceremony kicks in enough small flourishes to keep a smile on my jaded face throughout the album.
There’s so much reverb on the vocals in “The Great God Pan,” it might as well be two vocalists straining to keep in time, while “Morning of the Magicians” sports a sprightly waltz time perfect for cavorting with the wood nymphs. “Oliver Haddo” features Blood Ceremony’s most Iommi-flavored riff, and in my book, as long as you’ve got to rip off someone, might as well make it the Fount Of All Metal Wisdom, His Own Bad Self. I love all these little touches, like how the chorus to “My Demon Brother” seems to notch in at a fractionally higher tempo than the verses and solo spots; disavowing metronomic precision is likely seen as an unprofessional sin in many genres, but here it gives the music that which so much contemporary metal is sorely lacking: real soul.
Blood Ceremony is at its best when locked into these great instrumental trances, like an occult-laced, let’s-go-dance-in-the-forest-with-our-coven version of the hypnotic pull of the classic motorik sound of Kraftwerk or Neu!. Check the entire mid-section of “The Great God Pan,” which starts off as a mellow organ solo, and leads into a laid-back but searingly melodic guitar solo. Also fitting this mold are the last few minutes of “Oliver Haddo,” which thankfully rescue a song which had started to seriously drag otherwise. The most masterfully psyched-out tune, though, has to be album closer “Daughter Of The Sun.” The song’s ten minutes could go on for thirty and I’d be grinning all the while.
It’s the damnedest thing, really. The first few times through the album didn’t make too much of an impact, but something about these sounds really wove an appropriately magnetic spell. And, like I’ve tried to explain, it’s really not so much about the songs as it is about the sound. Or, rather, though the songs are strongly crafted, I probably wouldn’t pay them nearly as much mind if it wasn’t for the intoxicating warmth of the whole package. Think of Sweden’s Witchcraft for a comparison: sure, those songs smoke, but play them through some brittle, clicky modern settings and I’m off to play some vinyl way past the grooves just to breathe in deeply that life-giving fuzz. These folks, like so many of the greats before them, have stumbled across the greatest secret in music: it should always be about feeling over form. Righteous, righteous feeling.
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