Review Summary: What the Anciients have done here is nothing short of excellent
Many people will argue that there are two types of bands: those that strive to perfect a previously established sound, or those that push for a completely new sound altogether. However nowadays it’s becoming increasingly easy (and lazy) for a band to claim to attempt both of these in one swing by simply calling themselves “progressive”. Modern progressive music is sort of an oxymoron, as it’s a genre that encourages a lack of genres. Bands tend to get slapped with this label by their producers when the reality is, they are just stereotypes of another band. We’ve all heard the Opeth clones and the Porcupine Tree wannabes, so how can we call these guys and their followers progressive if they are clearly forming a niche that can be replicated?
Whether or not Anciients have asked themselves this during recording isn’t really important. What is important is how they managed to perfect this stale and rehashed “prog” sound. What do I mean by this? Well what the Anciients have done here is nothing short of excellent. They have tried to do what many bands do all the time: blend a multitude of sounds to create a juxtaposed mess of music to garner a progressive label. This time, however, they have done it right. There is rarely a dull moment on this release and I’m not afraid to make that claim. Listening through front to back is pure pleasure and never a chore. Throughout it are elements of soft rock and extreme metal, and everything in between the spectrum. What separates Heart of Oak from every other band that has tried this before is how every riff, drum beat, bass line and vocal melody belong here. It sounds like they represent the perfect ambassador for whatever genre they may seem to be playing in at that moment. Unlike a lot of other “prog” releases, Heart of Oak has filtered out of any music that should not be there. Nothing sounds strained or like a missed attempt for the sake of being progressive. In layman’s terms, there are seldom, if any, forced passages on this.
The softer moments are great and can easily hold their own if alone on the album. Instead, they act as silver linings to the already astonishingly powerful metal-driven moments that make up the meat of the record. These heavier sections are incredible to say the least. The bone-crushing chugs twist around pounding double bass until they are rocketed into the next black metal riff of pure insanity. The rhythms are catchy and the solos are great. What is most surprising is how good it sounds on the first listen, even with the complexity kicked into full gear.
Heart of Oak is one of those albums that is so well done, it makes you wonder why other bands can’t do something like it more often. Then again, that would just become fuel to the vicious progressive paradox that has plagued many before. Other acts should still, however, take this release as proof that it is possible to push the envelope on what defines progression without having to take a blind leap of faith into uncharted territory.