Review Summary: The tale begins...
Ancient Mastery is the third child of a shadow that signs as Erech Leleth, with Golden Blood and Narzisuss being his other two incarnations. The project seems to spawn through four albums or chapters that tell the story of the realm of Valdura, with this Chapter I: Across The Mountains Of The Drämmarskol
acting as the point of departure. Ancient Mastery sounds as you would expect from the cover, designed by Vera Tristitia, whose work you should check if black metal inspired art tickles your fancy. The sound of Ancient Mastery is, to absolutely no one’s surprise, good ol’ black metal, with crusty production, synth grandiosity, nocturnal shrieks and rabid blast beats, but there are a few surprises along the way.
“To Valdura” opens the album setting the mood with an array of keys and epic melodies. From the start, it’s clear that Ancient Mastery is heavily based on melody, an aspect in which I think Erech excels as a composer. Drums are programmed in a way that they do exactly what is needed according to what you are expecting. It’s something that creates a sort of familiarity which I felt helps this project to be among the most accessible black metal albums I heard in recent times.
Border lining dungeon synth territory, the first track enters a sort of respite before unleashing a savage blast beat, which later becomes some sort of folk metal ala Caladan Brood. “The Majesty of Aztara” follows suit with ten more minutes of symphonic black metal. Erech’s shrieks mesh incredibly well with the raw, rotten sound of the instruments that pile up behind his voice, but somehow everything is easily distinguishable. The first of several crazy moments takes place here, with a histrionic synth hammering a couple of sinister notes mid-track like a battle cry (I can’t believe I wrote that). The end of the track is spectacular and links perfectly with the next scenery. “The Passage” starts with the same resilience that the previous track, again playing with long dungeon synth passages until reaching the second and probably craziest moment of the album, with, again, a synth that sounds straight out from “The Final Countdown” creating a very... unique mood, dark and epic, with plenty of riffage trying to push back the synth overhaul in a constant battle for the spotlight.
The last track, “The Forest Gate”, was the moment that won me over. I did not expect Laine Miller’s moody vocals over that gloomy arpeggio, a beautiful moment of peace and melancholia before Erech takes over again with business as usual, if only with a sort of cabaret feel that is soon washed away by a playful flute and what it sounds like mountains clapping. You would believe that things are wrapping up at this point but nope: crazy synth strikes back and Erech rides once again on punkthrone wings onwards to the next chapter among fireworks, dragons and spaceships. Miller’s voice stops to say goodbye before the final send-off, a storm of riffs and screams concluding the first chapter of what it’s destined to be a history lesson to remember. To Valdura!