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Living With The Ancients

Rise Above (2011)
Rating: 8/10

It seems that “occult rock” is very much the in-thing, with a whole ghostly host of bands springing from their dusty attics in pursuit of sounds extraordinary. Step forward Blood Ceremony, a female-fronted bunch of Canadians who, hailing from Toronto, have trawled the depths of the esoteric vinyl cesspit for this magnum opus of flute-laced doom.

Living With The Ancients is the second opus from the four-piece, following on from their 2008 self-titled debut, and once again it’s a platter consisting of bewitching lyrics and 70s inspired eeriness, made all the more will-o-the-wispy by the flaky vocals of Alia O’Brien.

Musically, this is very much a boiling cauldron of creaky, oaken influences varying from the mystical Jethro Tull, to the wizened moans of Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath, as well as progressive rock and organ-drenched psychedelia.

Sean Kennedy provides the fuzzed-up and often antique guitar sound which laps away at Sabbath’s never forgotten shores, while the drums of Andrew Haust are equally stern, the band happy to celebrate all manner of morbid curiosities from obscure and atmospheric horror movies to satanically blessed metal.

Thankfully, Blood Ceremony are accessibly wistful too, bringing to mind the obscure wonders of short-lived 60s New Jersey psych act 6 Feet Under. Again, it’s those haunting vocals which take me to another level, enticing the listener into the candle-lit coven for an evening of clandestine midnight manoeuvres!

‘My Demon Brother’ oozes into the ill-lit dungeon blessed with a Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath)-inspired warbling riff and heavy organ from Alia O’Brien, as Blood Ceremony remind me of Chicago’s long-lost unholy 60s rockers Coven. The mournful yet enchanting vocals trip the not-so-light fantastic between those ominous yet mystical riffs.

There’s nothing depressing about Blood Ceremony’s brand of bizarre doom. The ten-minute ‘Daughter Of The Sun’ is more of a woodland jig rather than sombre sermon, as the flute provides all the majesty of some elf-ridden kingdom, with the track acting as a soundtrack to Brian Bates’ classic book The Way Of Wyrd (1983). The orgiastic ‘Oliver Haddo’ is equally stirring with its chugging riff and medieval merriment.

Blood Ceremony sneak in a few leafy interludes including the sprightful ‘The Witch’s Dance’, but the band really comes into their own with the psych-doom of ‘Night Of Augury’ with its almost sun-blessed groove, exuding the sort of dreamy yet darkly-tinged attitude that made Jefferson Airship so enticing. Elsewhere, this drifts into Kate Bush melancholy – O’Brien’s warble as magic and pitch as the dance of a naked witch on a full-moon night.

‘The Great God Pan’ – the opening cut – is a fantastic example of how a band of this ilk can have no limits. What begins as a doom-infested trudge soon becomes a bubblegum-psych track, made all the more summery by those chants before the band drift once again into gloom, all the while keeping the listener enriched by the rural ethos of it all.

Reviews for Living With The Ancients have been strangely mixed, because for me this is very much retro rock at its best. Blood Ceremony are certainly not doing anything new, but their sound allows the listener to breathe rather than become suffocated by the stoned-fuzz and overlong slo-mo glitches which haunt too many of today’s “doom” bands.

With the injections of flute and Technicolor splendour of the organ – coupled with O’Brien’s melodies – this is very much a record that evokes images of Black Sabbath at their most folky, but isn’t afraid to step back further into the 60s in order to rock. Living With The Ancients is a kaleidoscopic treat for those with a fetish for all things esoteric.

Neil Arnold

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