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Ancient Wisdom – A Celebration In Honor Of Death

Ancient Wisdom
A Celebration In Honor Of Death
by Santiago Puyol at 05 July 2021, 8:48 PM

ANCIENT WISDOM is the solo project by Marcus E. Norman, here better known as Vargher. Falling under the Black Metal scene, ANCIENT WISDOM takes inspiration from Gothic, Symphonic and even Prog Metal, delivering a richly orchestrated album. "A Celebration In Honor Of Death" lives up to its name, with a grand sound, as it represents a comeback from the project after a seventeen-year hiatus.

Opener "Haec Est Mors Secunda" digs deep into Gothic ambience, exquisitely paired with noisy, textured guitar work. Much like its latin title (roughly translated to This Is The Second Death), it sounds like an incantation. Almost folky melodies and gorgeous use of choral arrangements make for an epic opener, a mood-settler.

"Haec…" flows perfectly into "Breaking The Cycle Of Life", the first of five 8-plus-minute tracks. After a hypnotic and theatrical synth-laden intro, it gives way to Prog-tingled Black Metal. The conversational vocal style adopted by Vargher confers a stronger feel to his growly voice. Some interesting, playful use of the tom-toms and its shifting time signatures keep things in flux. Midway through, it breaks in cinematic fashion, a choral arrangement adding Symphonic flair to the song. At times, it reminds me of OPETH – always a compliment.

"Architect Of Death – Laudamus Te" feels more Doomy and also a tad repetitive, surely could have been at least two minutes shorter. It builds into a massive crescendo towards the end, with more symphonic flourishes and electronic touches, helping to break the rut it threatens to get stuck into. Thankfully this slightly low point of the record is followed by the strongest song overall.

Slowing down the pace and with its dense riffing comes "The Coronation". Dramatic and theatrical, it conveys the feel of a gran event, like a coronation, perfectly. Tremolo picking guitar sets this entirely in Black Metal rather than the more Death or Doom styles interspersed in previous tracks. "The Coronation", grandiloquent as it is, ebbs and flows, building momentum and releasing it in passionate rampages. Another cinematic track, this one more driven than previous ones. The orchestra and piano get a moment to shine, in an extremely vulnerable and simply delightful instrumental interlude. Vargher’s anguished screaming pierces through the sound for the finale, as the album title gets name-dropped here in an explosive, memorable chorus.

The slow churning intro of "Those Who Do Not Exist" emphasizes the Gothic vibe again, making the most of its choral voices and bells. At almost six minutes, it is a lengthy instrumental break, very nostalgic and melancholic. The lead guitar work here is impressive, really soulful and melancholic. Meanwhile, "And God Saw" returns to the 8-minute song format, being introduced by a brief but promising piano and bells section that gets quickly swallowed by mayhem. Once again, the slower section highlights several band strengths, namely the intricate arrangements and skilful soloing.

Closer "Towards Your Destruction" is both a classic textbook slow build-up final track, and the most unique song on the album. The use of spoken work and a trip-hop beat bring new elements into play, fitting perfectly with the rest of the album yet adding a sense of excitement. The orchestral element is emphasized, making for a melodramatic finale. The amazing use of organ and a chorus brings an element of nostalgia, vulnerability and even sacredness to the mix. A complex track with some shifts in mood and structure that might sacrifice a bit of coherence, but makes for an epic closer nonetheless.

"A Celebration In Honor Of Death" makes for an excellent return for ANCIENT WISDOM after a long, long break. The songwriting is strong, the musicianship simply excellent, and even if the tracks might be lacking in hooks sometimes, the album as a whole keeps the listener interested and tells a story that need to be heard. If you don’t mind some experimentation in your Black Metal, or even some full-fledged detours, then this album might be just for you!

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 7
Production: 8

4 Star Rating

Tracklist:
1. Haec Est Mors Secunda
2. Breaking The Circle Of Life
3. Architect Of Death – Laudamus Te
4. The Coronation
5. Those Who Do Not Exist
6. And God Saw
7. Towards Your Destruction
Lineup:
Vargher – All instruments, Vocals
Record Label: Avantgarde Music
     


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