Review Summary: The canadian bluesy doomsters get heavier, and more varied, albeit with more detailed historical references this time.
2011 is going to be one hell of a year to remember for music. For, not only within the rock and metal genres but also pop and dubstep, every possible artist that has revelled in the mainstream since the end of the 20th Century has at least released material. Florence and the Machine, Bjork and Justin Bieber (Please don't knock me for mentioning his name) have all, at least, produced material that was either controversially pissed all over when falling into the hands of humble reviewers, or, with a sense of overwhelming glee, have been widely regarded as their best in years. This also goes for those who were called upon to make something fresh and exciting, as in Anthrax's 'Worship Music' and Megadeth's 'Thirteen', both of which were successful in their own right (though the latter doesn't appear as successful as its predecessor), and as collaborations such as Korn/Skrillex and Metallica/Lou Reed have shown, 2011 is, musically, a very interesting one indeed.
However, after that reminiscence of what 2011 really has contained, it seems that many smaller bands have been doing the same thing, though, unfortunately, not to much effect. Blood Ceremony is one such band. Hailing from a country which is significantly noticed for its musical talent (excluding the pop Megastar that is Justin Bieber), Blood Ceremony aren't exactly supposed to stamp their musical efforts all over the globe. No, Rush and Voivod already beat them to it, albeit three and two decades ago respectively.
Unmistakeably lumped in with the fields that bands such as The Devil's Blood have been known to roam, Blood Ceremony are naturally one of those groups that, even in their mutual progression, are not afraid to show off their core influences. Those who actually know of the band will probably know by now that Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull and perhaps even King Crimson are more than merely noticed by Blood Ceremony. One listen to their self-titled debut effort and it is clear that, though a very psychadelic and spiritual essence of music, the band themselves are extremely different to what is currently going on in the mainstream. There has been a lot of talk about Blood Ceremony since their debut release, and, though still firmly entrenched in the Underground scene, are even covered in mass music magazines such as Terrorizer and Metal Hammer.
But less about the past, and more about the present. 'Living with the Ancients' is not an album to be taken lightly, especially if you haven't so much as heard of the genre of 'Occult Rock', but for this review, genre limits will not take place. As is interestingly obvious on their debut, the main theme recurring throughout is, well, the Occult, and theories surrounding that very term. However, 'Living with the ancients' suggests a hark back to the past, in which Blood Ceremony become their very own historians. Whereas the debut album consisted of a front cover depicting a genie of some sort hovering over an oval glass, their second full-length merely consists of each band member projected against pitch black darkness, of which the female singer seems to dominate. Not that this is to be taken as a sexist comment in any way, but when one looks at a cover such as this, the first thing they will think of is most probably 'That chick is the band'. Not that they are following some stylistic trend in the same vein as bands like Paramore and Evanescence.
It's just that, though Alia O' Brien may seem a very interesting character from this picture, her vocals don't quite make up for the hype the band have been receiving lately. In fact, she is far from the most talented of the band, vocally. However, what she lacks in vocals, she more than makes up for with the second-hand instruments that is the flute and the organ, and this is where the beautiful progression of Blood Ceremony comes in. As on their gloriously groovy debut, the use of the flute and the organ are basically apparent on each and every song.
However, this time round, things have become more aggressive and visceral in terms of sound and atmosphere. Even the vocalist herself, though not exactly the highlight of the debut, has obviously worked on her voice, and it shows on groove-laden anthems such as powerfully epic opener 'The Great God Pan' (referring to the Greek God Pan, known for his work with wild animals, hunting and nymphs), a tune that is the perfect opener to an album full of groove and doomy, progressive music. The guitars used here are evidently more prominent than on their debut, both Sean Kennedy and Chris Landon strumming the hell out of their respective instruments. However, this does not mean to say that the other instruments are ignored. O' Brien is a very talented organist, albeit taking a large influence from 70's Blues and Progressive Rock. It certainly shows on the one single and video of the album, 'Oliver Haddonfield', an ode to a young man, who, unsurprisingly is also in touch with spiritual and occult myseteries, judging from the lyrics that O' Brien so wonderfully brings out. 'My Demon Brother' is another prime example of how well the organ is used, and with a promising intro, the organ does not stop in its near five minutes of playing time.
Not everything here matches the heaviness of a fully grown elephant, and as guitars take place on every single song on the record, and organs squeezed in every gap that could be marked 'filler', the flute is used to wondrous effect. The solemn flute solos on 'Coven Tree' and its neighbouring track 'The Hermit' are reminiscent of that of Ian Anderson in his prime with Jethro Tull. It seems O' Brien has evidently been doing a lot of listening lately.
There are, perhaps, a few minor flaws with this album however, and in all its grandiose doom-inspired meddlings with themes of the Occult, the drums are not, with Andrew Haust as their owner, used with as much ferocity or indeed variation as is done with every other instrument. Not that the drums are supposed to be battered until they're destroyed, 'Living with the Ancients' being a homage to the sound of the early 70's, but Haust could have used a little more variation, rather than just plodding along to every song.
Whilst O' Brien's singing has been vitally improved for Blood Ceremony's second effort, she still lacks that edge that would make songs such as 'The Great God Pan' and 'My Demon Brother' that little bit better.
Put these minorities aside however, and you have a very varied, very progressive collection of doomy, grandiose material that harks back to the days where blues and progressive rock were the focus of every source of journalism. The structure of every song here is very well thought out, every instrument (apart from the drums, which seem to bang monotonously on with every other instrument) taking its turn and presenting itself in such a fantastic and beautifully handled way.
Variation is what makes 'Living with the ancients' the gem it is. Even if you get bored with the overtones of the flute and the organ, there is always a synthesiser or two on 'Morning of the Magicians', with a calm, gently strummed electric guitar, which wouldn't sound out of place on Led zeppelin's 'III' album.
Blood Ceremony, a band that are high in originality and creativity, will not be seen headlining the London Roundhouse anytime soon. But its that underground feel to their bluesy and doomy attempt at making music that makes them stand out from the crowd. Even now, having been signed to a label full of underground bands, their success and stature grows, but only gradually, like a caterpillar or larvae cocooning itself. For those that despise the current state of music trends such as dubstep-infused metal and the evolution of thrash metal, Blood Ceremony may serve as a treat for you. For those who are already aware of the diamonds that are found more often in the underground music scene that in the mainstream, an album such as 'Living with the ancients' will still offer a nice surprise. Naturally, their constant links to The Devil's Blood may prove somewhat frustrating, but both of these bands are what the current music industry is missing. They are not merely a homage to 70's blues rock and doomy music, they are much more. 'Living with the ancients', an album which focusses deeply on the individuals entranced by the occult and its spirituality, is not to be taken as a concept, but rather an idealistic way of teaching history, both musically and theoretically.