Release Details

LABEL Svart Records
RELEASED ON 2/22/2013
  • Each of the three songs highlights a unique aspect of the group’s identity, with wildly varying durations, including their shortest and longest songs to date.

Jess and the Ancient Ones

Astral Sabbat

posted on 2/2013   By: Matt Longo

There has been an incredible resurgence of occult rockers with female frontwomen… that pretty much goes without saying (and yet, there I go). The recently/allegedly departed Dutch outfit in The Devil's Blood was an exemplary go-to over the last few years, and when I interviewed mainman SL a year ago, he revealed much. One thing we discussed was the drive/purpose of like-minded souls, and he seemed dubious of certain entities. His short list included Blood Ceremony, Jex Thoth, and even Ghost. However, to be clear: he expressed a great deal of respect for the latter, but in all cases, he does not understand why any of those bands do what they do.

That very lingering sentiment — plus an unnamed colleague ripping on Jess and the Ancient Ones in some long lost Facebook feed, and the fact that I’d already been digging on awesome releases by Castle and Royal Thunder, with a promising Witch Mountain not far on the horizon — all generated apathy altogether. Plus, their first two tunes sounded similar to Christian Mistress, who’d just unleashed the powerful Possession barely three months prior. So basically, I was like… why bother? Even if one of the Demilich dudes plays rhythm.

Honestly, when you cycle back to the JATAO s/t debut, some memorability creeps out of every song, but it doesn’t stick on an ‘album’ level. Yeah, "Sulfur Giants" holds its own (even at a twelve-minute length), and unexpected twists like the lowly Western American twangs of "Devil (in G minor)" made for satisfying returns. But it was in places like "Come Crimson Death" where they faltered, trying to portion out appetizers of retro doom across a buffet-size palette, and I’d excuse myself early.

So what does JATAO intend to prove with this EP? Well first, they are clearly pointing further back to the ‘60s this time; second, they want to illustrate their developing talents as composers. Each of the three songs highlights a unique aspect of the group’s identity, with wildly varying durations, including their shortest and longest to date.

Astral Sabbat begins with its title track which comparatively features far less of that snarling ‘70s vibe more present in, say, the aforementioned Christian Mistress. It hops a decade further back, with Abraham’s keyboards again playing a prominent role, but now feels more like there should be go-go girls dancing on Laugh-In. In the midsection, Fast Jake’s bass swings in with a tight James Bond-ian homage if I’ve ever heard one, and we eventually circle back to the main riff. Remember that, while JATAO primarily focus on Jess alone, it’s the Ancient Ones — especially twin-Thomas guitarists Corpse & Fiend — who weave this wicked tapestry on which the vocals may be overlaid.

“Long and Lonesome Road” is their catchiest song to date — though not their own, which I did not realize at first — with Jess belting out the gracefully slick cover of Shocking Blue, a Dutch band that you probably know through covers alone. I actually prefer this “Road” to the original, as a better-realized ending and more balanced production are assaulted by Jess’s vicious red-lining contralto (although Mariska Veres was badass in her own right with an alluring accent, strong command, and striking presence). This song seems more befitting of where JATAO are headed, as opposed to their take on Coven’s “White Rose of Witch Hall” that dropped when they first signed to Svart Records. That being said, a trend of mutation may continue, with their current shape still nebulous.

Further, Jess and the Ancient Ones have even shown us they can confidently stretch out across a nearly fifteen minute slow burn — replete with piano asides, acoustic-laced Americana, Crimson dips, and tectonic Scalzi-esque/Cobbett-ish shifts. Absolutely infectious passages like “Silhouettes from the great abyss whispering unto me, whispering unto MeEEeee” (which is the killer line akin to "Ohhh, I wish I'd never been booorrrn") are straight sleeved aces, cunningly timed and always well played.

I may have initially raised an eyebrow in the past, but to Jess and the Ancient Ones I now raise a fist.