Proxima Centauri

Back in 1994, three bands were leading the savage path of black metal into the mainstream. Emperor released Into the Nightside Eclipse, Cradle of Filth released Principles of Evil Made Flesh, and finally Ancient released Svartalvheim. All three were landmark albums and eventually led to more acclaimed albums and propelled two of the bands to metal stardom.

However, Ancient released one more good album and then just kinda drifted into mediocrity, feeding of the scraps left by Emperor and Cradle of Filth. The Cainian Chronicles was the decent Ancient album. They started slipping after that album and went onto release The Halls of Eternity and Mad Grandiose Bloodfiends. Both, in my opinion, were not very good, and seemed to indicate Ancient had lost their fire, songwriting ability and originality that made Svartalvheim so good.

I would love to report that Ancient has released a stunning comeback album that once again propelled them to the top of the black metal hierarchy. Unfortunately, that is not true. Firstly, Proxima Centauri is much better than the last two albums. But really that isn’t saying much, and when compared to recent releases by Emperor, Scholomance, and Thyrane it seems derivative and uninspired. The songwriting trio of Azphael, GroM, and Jesus Christ! just simply pen stagnant death metal riffs that simply do not leap out at the listener or create the single element that makes black metal special: atmosphere.

I cannot think of a single moment of this album that made me rewind or repeat at any time. Must of the songs are mid-paced, plodding affairs sprinkled with a few blast-beats and keyboards. It strikes me that this effort to be more “controlled” was a forced effort during the songwriting process, and it doesn’t work. Ancient are far more competent when blasting away with a more pagan-influenced melodic blast beat, as evident on two of the better songs “The Witch” and “Eyes of the Dead”.

Any efforts to try to convey the necessary atmosphere of fear, hate and power come off rather empty, the heavily accented female vocals during “Beyond the Realms of Insanity” is a perfect example of this. Luckily, there are not nearly as many moments of these strained atmospherics as there were on Mad Grandiose Bloodfiends, as most of the material is the slower chugging black metal that is boring yet tolerable.

On a positive note, these riffs are pretty heavy and bolstered by a nice earthy production, but the production alone cannot hide the weak songwriting. Even the attempt at an epic nine-minute closing track ends up being nine minutes of forgetful music. It is a shame that a band that was such a force early on in their career have fallen so far. It amazes me that Ancient are still signed to a “major” label, while far more talented and driven bands slog away on tiny foreign independent labels.

Diehard fans of the band might enjoy this, but most will be disappointed by the downward slide this once great band has taken. Those looking for an introduction to one of the forefathers of Norwegian black metal would do well to track down anything by this band that they recorded prior to 1997 – back when they were good.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Erik T
April 17th, 2001


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