Review Summary: *Ancients are a decent post-rock band who play along, although beautifully, to an exhausted formula, with flashes of brilliance.3 of 3 thought this review was well written
*Ancients are a post-rock supergroup formed from the ashes of atmospheric metal band Rinoa
. Along for the ride are drummer Daniel Hoang of Crydebris
and Mehdi Safa of *shels
. With this, Star Showers on the Euphrates
is an expansive exploration into atmosphere and bombast.
This primarily instrumental album begins in an understated fashion, with background static laying the foundations for softly-plucked guitar and gentle strings -- an opening that can only be described as elegant. We are introduced to a musical palette awash with beauty and restraint, however this is, unfortunately, all too misleading. Before long, "Satellites" declares the band's uncompromising hasteness towards volume and attempted impact, exploiting a soft-loud dynamic so beaten and predictable that this iteration of the formula edges closer to sounding ironic than powerful. It is worth noting that, despite this complaint, every sonic element that is presented in "Satellites" (and the album entirely) is expertly-crafted -- the guitars are truimphant and the drums pound like thunder -- and that makes its uninspired progression all the more disappointing. What's more, this same description can simply be reapplied to the following two tracks, "Arcturus" and "Constellations" -- start soft, end loud.
With "Icarus", the band seemingly learns from their earlier mistakes, producing an ambient track that allows itself to simply be, without any premature urge to explode. This is 10 minutes of (presumably) Stars of the Lid
-inspired quiet drone. "Icarus" serves as a nice song to level out the pace of the album; however, with this track, *Ancients have arguably stretched too far in the other direction, as the song tends to drag more than it drifts.
With the album closer, things take a turn for the spectacular. "Cassiopeia" is a 24-minute demonstration of atmospheric post-rock perfection. The 'song' is comprised of three separate sections (we'll call them movements), each with a distinct artistic approach. The first movement takes cues from the earlier tracks on the album, with its loud, soaring guitars and gun-shot drum rolls. The production here is absolutely stellar, and although it does little to break from the mould set with previous tracks, it does what it does exceptionally well.
With each movement, "Cassiopeia" only gets better and better, culminating in a beautifully melodic song that, had it appeared on Valtari
, would have been remembered as one of the most sensational pieces of music that Sigur Ros
ever recorded -- it's that stunning. Fans of *Ancients' 2011 single release "Constellations" will recognise this movement as B-side "De Stella Nova", one of the best post-rock songs of last year. Until now I have yet to mention Mehdi Safa's vocals, for the reason that they are rarely ever treated as a major component of the music -- they act to supplement, rather than drive the instruments behind which they are imposed. Contrarily, "De Stella Nova" (or, "Cassiopeia -- part 3") makes the most of the *shels frontman's earnest vocals, and they sound more beautiful and emotional than they ever have before.
Between the energetic bombardment of "Cassiopeia"'s first movement and the serene beauty of its closing moments lies an ambient soundscape that is truly breathtaking. Much with the same intention as "Icarus" but with vastly greater success, the second movement of "Cassiopeia" floats through 10 minutes of spacious aural euphoria. Like standing on a desolate and beautiful planet bereft of all life, this sparse song is almost devoid of anything describable, but it inspires much more than anything around it ever could. It's almost silent, recalling and even exceding the most awe-inspiring moments of Hammock
's more gentle compositions.
Can a closing cavalcade of unrivalled bliss make up for the more than 15 minutes of post-rock redundancy that precedes it? Perhaps not entirely, but that doesn't mean to say that this album isn't worth your attention. Had "Cassiopeia" been released as an independent single, or EP, I might be quick to declare it a masterpiece. As it happens, it took *Ancients half an album's-worth of painting by numbers to stumble upon their true calling. Should this supergroup's next attempt more wholly embrace their ambient inclinations, then they might just make a huge impact on the underground music scene. Until then, they'll simply remain a decent post-rock band who play along, although beautifully, to an exhausted formula, with flashes of brilliance.
(Note: This is an edited version of the review posted on Post-Rockstar: http://postrockstar.com/2012/12/21/ancients-star-showers-on-the-euphrates-83/)