Ancient
Night Visit

Lets be honest, after being of on the cusp of black metal elitism with their first two albums, Svartalvheim and The Cainian Chronicles, Norway’s Ancient became pretty bad, pretty quick, peaking with 2001’s embarrassingly bad Proxima Centauri, and as a result have become pretty much irrelevant in black metal circles.

So with some lineup changes including the ousting of former singer Lord Kaiaphas (ironically, whose ‘hiring’ started Ancient’s slide into shitiness) and keyboardist Deadly Kristin leaving for personal reasons. Well, it all worked apparently, as while Ancient are certainly far from being one black metal’s better bands, have released a solid album that comes close to erasing the dark spots of their recent efforts.

With Azphazel back on vocals and a reduced role of symphonic keyboards, Ancient’s sound is now a brittle combination of the classic raw Norwegian sound they helped form and a slightly more controlled melodic modern black/death metal. Surprisingly varied, Night Visit offers plenty of moods between songs and within songs, but nothing really new to the genre. There are some traditional yet polished blazing black metal power chords and there are plenty of slower rumbling sections, if I were to place Ancient’s ‘new’ sound, I would have to say they have something in common with fellow Norwegians Aeternus, but with a gothic tinge due to a few well-placed strings and occasional atmospheric interludes.

Opener ‘Envision the Beast’ dispenses with the usual black metal introductions and dives straight into Ancient’s most visceral work since their debut, and while the female vocals reek of Cradle of Filth-ish theatrics, the blast beat they overlay is impressive. Somehow, Lord Kaiaphas was invited back for guest vocals on ‘Rape the Children of Abel’, but thankfully his presence doesn’t detract from an otherwise sturdy mid-paced track. ‘Horroble’ (their spelling, not mine) despite its lame chorus/title is an almost black and roll track that I would never have imagine spewing forth from Norway, let alone this band, but it shows Azaphel trying to make the strides that were farcically implemented on Proxima Centauri. The atmospheric title track sees the first expanded use of synths and such to give the track a lurching yet haunting vibe that covers the expected Dimmu Borgir polish and pace. The initial march of ‘Night of the Stygian Souls’ is flat out solid and the pretty epic ‘The Truth Unveiled’ is a stirring closing track (not including instrumental outro ‘The Arctic Mage’ and bonus track ‘Out in the Haunted Woods’).

 The production is compact and not over produced despite the odd atmospherics, they are delicate and balanced-surprisingly so considering the largely synth heavy prior efforts. Don’t get me wrong, Ancient are still wholly mired in the second tier of black metal, but after a string of complete failures, Night Visit at least makes them adequate again to those willing to give them another chance.

I guess I’m actually more stunned by the fact this album isn’t horrendous more than anything and that makes me appreciate it a little more. Night Visit also proves the grit of Aphazel, who rather than fade away into obscurity, has clawed his way back to into respectability.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
July 13th, 2004

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