Anciients

Progressive Metal - Canada

Anciients Band

It’s been a rough handful of years for British Columbia-based extremity-laced progressive rockers, Anciients. When the quartet unleashed their Voice of the Void album in 2016, the world appeared to be their oyster and things seemed ripe for the picking. They were coming off the success of their Heart of Oak debut from 2013, its ascendancy due in large part to a collective uptick in interest for involved, forward-thinking music. The public had moved beyond toe-dipping and tire-kicking, and were instead doing headfirst dives into exploring the likes of Opeth, Mastodon, Baroness, The Ocean, Intronaut and others who originally hailed from the extreme music underground, but had since grown, matured and scrubbed behind their ears to include heaping and healthy chunks from the outskirts   of their record collections and influence pools.  

The Band That Auto- Correct Loves to Fuck With™ shared stages with everyone from High on Fire and Goatwhore to Boris and Lamb of God, were in the midst of a European tour when they discovered they were JUNO Award (Canadian Grammy equivalent) winners in the heavy metal/hard rock category. The world was ready to accept Anciients into its welcoming arms. Anciients was gearing up to employ takeover methods, specifically their brand of thunderous rhythms and labyrinthine riffing bolstered by a road warrior mentality. And then, the momentum petered out and the band seemingly fell off the face of the earth.  

Today, Anciients are ready and poised to resume their spirited quest for heavy metal paramountcy. There’s no doubt the band is back and with a stunning and beautiful collection of ten songs on offer in the form of new and third album, Beyond the Reach of the Sun, they are positioning to reestablish themselves as a dominant force for those who love windmilling their tresses around thoughtful tempo changes, complex harmonic layers and driving power chord shifting. But what the hell happened and where did they disappear to? 

“Basically,” explains guitarist/vocalist Kenny Cook, “right before Voice of the Void was recorded, my wife had our first kid. She ended up having heart complications and almost passed away from it. We recorded the last record and once it came out, I was kind of just focusing on her, dealing with her health issues and keeping that in check. I wasn’t at the stage where I could be gone for half a year, especially with a new kid. Long story short, she’s happy and healthy now, but dealing with family issues was the main priority. It was a bit of a road.” 

Adding to that bit of Anciients camp turmoil, guitarist/co-vocalist/co-founding member, Chris Dyck and the band parted ways in January of 2017. This left a gaping lineup hole at an inopportune juncture in the band’s timeline. Not only did Cook have to deal with the absence of his long-term song and lyric writing partner, but Dyck was also someone he had been splitting vocal duties with since the pair formed the band in 2009. And then, while helping his wife with her recovery, raising their new born and “because we wanted to raise our son in a small town environment,” the Cook family uprooted to Columbia-Shuswap four hours east of the Vancouver area, where drummer Mike Hannay, Brock MacInnes (Dyck’s replacement) and brand spanking new bassist Rory O’Brien still reside. 

“We knew Brock from other bands he’d been in and we knew he’d be a great fit,” explains Cook. “He actually filled in for Chris on a tour we did back in 2015. As far as the vocals, I just found myself picking up the slack on both ends. It felt somewhat natural, it was definitely different. Doing the lyrics myself for the first time was somewhat daunting, but it was also something done out of necessity. But even when Chris was in the band I handled 80-90% of the vocals anyway, so it didn’t change all that much.”  

Then, that whole COVID-19 thing you probably heard about once or twice hit in 2020 and put another restraining bolt on Anciients activity, especially touring as the Canadians found themselves dealing with stricter travel restrictions and mandates than many other countries; most notably, not being able to cross the border for almost two years. Once the dust settled, Cook had to adjust to being the lone vocalist and how that impacted the material he was writing while navigating being creative with distance between Anciients’ members for the first time. Not a biggie, as in-person writing sessions are more of a rarity these days, but because of the time elapsed since Voices of the Void, things/interests/influences changed and the band ended up scrapping half of an album’s worth of material and starting fresh. When they put their heads down at the end of 2021 with the focus being Beyond the Reach of the Sun, what was revealed a year later was more streamlined and slithery, more chest-thumpingly direct, more epic and triumphant sounding. Riffs come in explosive layered packets. Leads, harmonies and melodies are more on par with wind-tussled mountain tops instead of sweaty bar shows and the band moves with finely honed, martial accuracy as conducted by Hannay’s rocket-in-the-pocket staccato swing and accents.  

Songs like “The Torch” blaze with the shirtless glisten of ‘70s stadium rock power. “Cloak of the Vast and Black” swirls and whirls with a combination of hardcore intensity, grunge groove and expansive six-string parries. “In the Absence of Wisdom” is a hurricane-sized maelstrom of classic and prog rock elevated to grandiosity by a return to their growling sludge/death early years as the song/album concludes. The album’s first single, “Melt the Crown” mixes cues from legendary fellow hosers Rush and Harlequin, turn-of-the-millennium post-metal and the most psychedelic corners of the Rise Above Records roster. 

“The new record has a lot more of our rock side,” Cook offers, “and leans towards those elements of our sound and personalities, whereas Voice of the Void was pretty crushing all the way through. With the new material we’ve tried to add more dynamics to the music and give the songs more room to breathe.”  

Album opener “Forbidden Sanctuary” is the soundtrack to exploration, of new worlds and sonic arrangement as sine-wave guitars pull from vintage Mercyful Fate covens and Krautrock communes with synths opening up novel textural avenues, as they do on the ethereal wispiness and space rock/sci-fi soundscapes of the instrumental “Candescence.” Beyond the Reach of the Sun sees synths and keyboards making their first appearance on an Anciients record and were played by producer/mixer Jesse Gander and Justin Hagberg at the former’s Rain City Recorders studio. In addition to augmenting the album with his skill on the black and whites, Hagberg — a member of the recently reunited 3 Inches of Blood —  also helped Anciients navigate a significant last-minute hurdle, one that threatened to pull the reins back on their comeback roar. 

“We lost our bass player literally a month before we were going in to record and were kind of up shit’s creek. Justin also plays in a band called Ritual Dictates with Rory and is the one who brought his name up.” 

O’Brien, a former member of Vancouver’s Bushwhacker, was absolutely interested when approached by Anciients.  

“We got lucky and he saved our asses at the last minute.”  

Cook stepped up to the challenge of being the sole lyricist to drape Beyond the Reach of the Sun in deeply personal expressions of the inner turmoil, fear and isolation he’d experienced in himself and saw in others over the past few years. There were moments where he didn’t know whether loved ones were going to pull through and what life was going to look like were tragedy come to pass. Mental health and people living life without being able to see any light at the end of the tunnel became a very prevalent theme to tracks like “Despoiled” and “Beyond Our Minds.” And while the line that became the album’s title is taken from a David Attenborough-narrated Planet Earth documentary, it speaks more to the coming and going of despondency when one doesn’t know how dark the darkness is going to get, as in “Is It Your God,” which pulls from the manifestation of grief and how it can shatter belief systems.  

“That one is a little more personal to me and my situation,” Cook says somberly. “I had a good friend of mine from when I was younger pass away from cancer. His mother was super-religious and there were ideas taken from her questioning how could something like that happen to her when she had such a strong faith.”  

The title and themes of stripped away hope and piled on anguish and tumult were parlayed into the album’s spectacular cover art. Created by Adam Burke (Nightjar Illustrations), the drawing is part-pulp novel cover, part-Franzetta landscape, part-sci-fi movie poster and all a vast illustration one can easily lose themselves in while the record spins in the background. 

“We gave him the concept and basic outline of how we wanted the cover to look and he took it to a whole new dimension. It turned out pretty wild!” 

With all being said and done, Anciients have returned! They stand ready to ascend the prog metal ladder and get back to doing what they do best with a weighty and dense, but wholly accessible, album. It’s a collection of ten songs that possesses the ability to have those furiously banging heads also tapping into their power of self-reflection and contemplation to ponder the finality of existence, the value of life and their place in the universe.  

“Totally! We’re going to take as many of the opportunities that come to us. The hiatus is over and I think with the new members and everyone being on the same page we’re ready to get out there as soon as possible. We missed out on a huge block after the last record, so we’ve got to make up for lost time. Now that everyone is happy and healthy, we plan to hit it hard.” 

 

Line-up:

  • Kenny Cook : Guitar, Vocals
  • Brock MacInnes : Guitar
  • Rory O'Brien : Bass
  • Mike Hannay : Drums
Posted on June 12, 2024

After eight years of soul-searching deep within the Canadian wilderness, Anciients are back and ascending toward their rightful place as guiding lights for progressive metal. The JUNO Award winners recently announced their highly-anticipated third album.

Posted on May 21, 2024

Many moons ago, Anciients were crowned the guiding lights of progressive metal. The Canadians were already firing on all cylinders during a headlining tour of Europe when they won a JUNO Award for Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year in 2016.

Posted on January 11, 2024

Since winning a coveted JUNO for their last album in 2018, Anciients have been whittling away at their follow-up. That album is done now and will be released later this year. But before the hard-rocking Canucks come down from the mountain with a new set of genre-breaking commandments for the psychedelic masses, they’re flexing their new lineup with a re-recorded version of a proven fan favorite.

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