Jess and the Ancient Ones
Jess and the Ancient Ones

Jess and the Ancient Ones are:

a) an improvisational theater group at an old folks’ home
b) a rival band on ‘Josie and the Pussycats’
c) the latest entry to the female-fronted occult/psychedelic hard rock revival

B would be cool, but yep, it’s c. And that’s a good thing, ‘cause it’s been one of the most interesting retro trends of late, including The Devil’s Blood (my most-played band of the last few years), Jex Thoth (and her side-project Sabbath Assembly), Blood Ceremony, Occultation, Rose Kemp and more, plus female-fronted stoner acts like Witch Mountain, Royal Thunder and Christian Mistress. Come to think of it, all of these sirens for Satan need some kind of genre name by now. Priestess metal? Coven doom? Womb rock? (Someone I met in a turntable.fm metal room even suggested “Doom Titties.”)

Anyway, straight off with “Prayer for Death and Fire” and “Twilight Witchcraft,” this is fun, rollicking stuff. Ominous titles, but the music is not quite – more the type of thing you’d hear in a bar than a dank basement crowded with candles and goat skulls. I guess I’m not too surprised with a cheeky name like Jess and the Ancient Ones (seriously, Jess sounds like the girl next door, or your buddy’s cool older sister who bought you beer when you were 16, and not a spell-muttering chanteuse of the arcane arts). Still, the gal’s got some pipes. Full-bodied and warm, but so far she could be fronting a Pretenders cover band instead of flirting with the occult.

It’s not until the 12-minute “Sulfur Giants” that we get some genuine mystery and atmosphere; sighed vocals and swirling, vaporous melodies wrapped around a core of propulsive rock. From that point on – the mellotron-and-keyboard-laden “Ghost Riders,” the midnight gallop of “13th Breath of the Zodiac” and the pensive, smoky closing epic, “Come Crimson Death,” Jess and the Ancient Ones deliver on their dark promise.

Although the sound and production here are decidedly retro (think Coven), I’d love to hear the band even darker and heavier on the next one, with beefed-up guitars and bass and an overall thicker mix. Jess has the richest sounding instrument here, and although it’s good to have her front and center, she’s not served as well as F is with The Devil’s Blood. A more oppressive splash of occult vibes in the first couple of tracks would have also done a better job of setting the mood.

Nonetheless, if this new occult rock thing is your cup of tea leaves, add these Finns to your playlist. It’s more serious than the name suggests, though it’s still on the lighter end of the spectrum far as this genre goes.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
July 16th, 2012

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