Ancient have returned! Back to the Land of the Dead is the band’s first outing in 12 years, and one that has amassed no small amount of expectation in certain quarters.
You’ll no doubt be pleased to know that it’s an album that lives up to these expectations, one that’s worth taking the time to listen to and to get to know as it lashes you with its frosted riffs and serrated vocals.
Thankfully, when speaking to the owner of said serrated vocals, he revealed himself to be much less scary than his recordings would suggest.
Step into the world of Ancient…
My name is Zel, founder of the band Ancient, an extreme metal band, with roots in the Norwegian black metal scene, founded in Norway in 1992, but today is based in Italy, and Greece (where I live).
What are your influences?
We are influenced by a lot of different styles in metal, but the music we write for Ancient nowadays is mainly inspired by bands like Bathory, Celtic Frost, Naglfar, Satyricon, I am also a lot influenced also by classic ’80s metal, and even various dark ambient music.
Name five things you’ve listened to recently that you’d recommend
(not stuff from 2016, but ok…)
Septic Flesh – Titan
Dead Can Dance – Within The Realm Of A Dying Sun
Cor Scorpii – Monument
Forgotten Tomb – Hurt Yourself And The Ones You Love
Tartaros – The Grand Psychotic Castle
This is your first album in over a decade – what happened since Night Visit, and how did the new album come about?
Well, from 2006 to 2009 there was a total silence from Ancient. We made no concerts etc. and I didn’t even meet Dhilorz in this period, and I moved to Greece in early 2006. I guess we grew a bit tired of the band after 2005. Grom left Ancient and relocated to the USA, and I think we just felt we needed a break, but we didn’t agree on stopping the band exactly, it just happened, though we never made any official announcement that the band had split up, though practically it had. In 2009, by a coincidence, a friend of mine in London introduced us to Nick Barker, and we decided to start playing again, it was surely inspiring to have the chance to work with such a drummer, after the long break I guess we were ready to start playing again (Dhilorz had been playing in various bands in Italy, but not me). We did 2 mini tours in Spain / Portugal with Nick, and the feeling was very good, so we slowly started thinking about a new album, things were moving slow though, with me in Greece and Dhilorz in Italy (and Nick in the UK when he was not away for touring with other bands). But the actual songs for the album were written mainly between 2012 and 2013. The album took us almost 2 years to complete, it was recorded in 7 different locations, mixed in Italy and mastered at Finnvox Studios in December 2015. In theory we could have finished the album a lot earlier, if we went and did everything in 1 or 2 studios, but with various jobs, bands etc, close friends and family members dying, everything went really slow. This won’t happen again for another album though.
Tell us about Back to the Land of the Dead – any themes or ideas you want to discuss?
This album is surely our most aggressive so far, there are many blast beats (which was inevitable with a drummer like Nick) but also several slower parts as usual. We don’t have so much keyboards in this album, just a few places and they are rather low in the mix. It was recorded in 7 different locations, in Norway, Denmark, Greece and mostly Italy, where it also was mixed. I wrote 5 of the songs on the album and Dhilorz wrote 7. I had more songs but they were of a slower style and so on, so I have saved those for a project I am gonna record an album with soon, rather atmospheric doomy/mid paced tracks, I felt they didn’t fit on the album so much.
The lyrics this time mainly speak about the devil, the spirit of the devil and how it deceives the humans and how it influence us in various ways, it’s a kind of abstract topic, but still very real, I was studying this a bit the past few years, and found it to be a very good material for lyrics.
The album title “Back To The Land Of The Dead”, will maybe confuse some people, thinking we’re saying something like “we are back FROM the dead” (the band makes a “comeback”), but it’s different. On the cover you see a hooded figure coming out from some kind of passage or gateway, and below there are hundreds of zombie like creatures, these are the “dead” people, but they’re not exactly zombies, like those in the zombie movies, you could call them “spiritual zombies” maybe, and with this I mean a very great part of people in our society today, who are somewhat “spiritually dead”, they way they live and what they occupy their minds with etc, (luckily I see that in the metal scene, most of us do not belong in this category, most metal fans are different than the rest of society, we have a different mindset and many of us are rebellious or/and have somewhat different ways to view life and what is really important here, I do believe that metal music is healthy for our brains in many ways), of course I see it as a relative thing, who are the “dead” people and who is “somewhere in between”. It’s not about discriminating anyone, but it’s speaking about something that is happening to a lot of us and our minds, with the “modern lifestyle” so many of us are following now, our mindset etc, the track The Sempiternal Haze is speaking more about this, describing a “spiritual haze”, which is somewhat shows in the people you see at the front cover.
The cover was drawn by Diego Maniscalco in Italy, we’re very satisfied with his work.
The lyrics in the title track “Land Of The Dead” speaks about a person who has been away from the place he was born, for many years, and when he returns he sees that the people there have become somewhat “spiritually dead” and he needs to “wake them up” from their “death” before it becomes a physical death, like the lyrics repeats “my journey is over, it’s time to come back”.
How were the songs written?
The way we write most of the songs are :
1) Writing the guitar riffs
2) Making the structure of the songs (which parts will repeat, etc.)
3) Playing with the drummer to create the final version
4) Putting vocals in the end
But, it’s not always like this, in some cases I can have the lyrics written before I start writing the music, this can be a great source of inspiration and it also helps to make the vocals and music fit well together.
What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
It’s a hard one, but I think actually I have to say it’s “The Ancient Disarray”, I love how this one sounds when you turn the volume up a lot, it has a feeling a bit different than the other songs on the album but I am very satisfied with the way it turned out.
How do you think the new album sits in comparison with the rest of your work?
Well, it’s our most aggressive one, as mentioned above, and has a lot of nice blasts from Mr. Barker, but I still think we have kept the identity and sound that Ancient is known for, it’s still atmospheric and melodic in our own special way, just more aggressive this time, and the sound of the album is very much based on heavy guitars and a powerful warm “old school” production, yet not too “dirty” either, we really don’t like a lot of the newer productions where the bass drums and bass guitar etc has no real bass frequencies, never understood that taste, but ok…we do what feels right for us.
How do you think your music will progress in the future?
It’s very hard to say, it’s not something we make plans about, we just keep making the music that feels natural to us, I imagine the next Ancient album to be a bit more atmospheric again, but time will tell.
Is cover artwork important in this increasingly digital age?
I think so, at least I still like to look at the covers of the albums I buy and listen to. Probably some of the reason that the vinyls have become popular again, is because everything has become so digital, and many fans miss the old days where you had big album covers and all this artwork to look at while you were listening to a new album. With all the digital downloads etc. it often feels that something is lost. The music is the most important of course, but many people like to still have a physical product in their hands, not just data files, you know.
What’s your take on the current state of the black metal scene in 2016, and how do you think Ancient fits into it?
I always felt that Ancient was a band a bit out of the black metal scene, and I don’t really think of Ancient as a black metal band to be honest, I don’t care much about labels and descriptions, etc. but I do feel that we are a band which is quite un- typical in the extreme metal genre, but that’s just my personal opinion I guess. In my opinion the black metal scene today has become a bit boring, there are so many bands now, it seems everything has been done and it’s not easy to find something truly interesting. The albums of the early ’90s are a lot more interesting still today. I also think the attitude of the fans and musicians in the genre has become very “watered out” and it has very little to do with how it was back in the early ’90s, but that was to be expected of course. Back then, black metal was something “dangerous”, “mysterious” and dark, but now, I feel that almost all of this is lost.
What are your views on the state of the music industry since the release of Night Visit, as compared to now, releasing Back to the Land of the Dead?
Well, since 2004, sites like YouTube, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, iTunes, have become (more) popular for streaming music. It’s a good way to spread new music and especially to promote new bands, but at the same time, there are so many bands out there now, it’s difficult to get attention in the ocean of music out there, especially for new and unknown bands.
I hear more and more about bands that actually pay to get signed to big labels etc. and several “desperate” attempts to get recognised. Some bigger labels actually pay money to sites like YouTube and Facebook for showing a fake high view count, or likes for their bands, it’s becoming more of a kind of mafia. It’s not very cool but I don’t pay so much attention to it, good music will always have a market, even though a lot of things have become a lot more corrupt than it used to. Many people in the music business today make good money by “selling dreams”, to new bands, telling them “if you invest so and so, your band can become rich and famous”, very sad for those that aren’t careful with what they’re doing and how they spend their time and money.
Playing live – essential or pointless?
For some bands it’s maybe pointless, but for Ancient I think it’s important. This album has a style which can be reproduced live without losing too much of the feeling the songs have on the album. We enjoy playing live and coming out to meet the fans and so on, but it is essential that the concerts will be done in a way that represents the band well, and not going out to play for the sake of it. We could have played a lot more concerts than we do, but we prefer to focus on quality instead of quantity.
What are the next steps for Ancient?
We will soon be finishing a promo video for the song “The Sempiternal Haze”. After that, we will do some touring, the booking is in the works now.
Any parting words?
Thanks for the support, and see you on tour!!!