Ok, so I’ve had this one on the back-burner for a while now it seems. What have I been doing that’s more important? Fuck you. That’s what.
Anyway, I’ve been busy.
But that has given me the chance to give this EP a thorough listen several times over, and really appreciate every second of the music contained therein.
Into The Dark sees the band making a transition away from the sound they established on their first two releases (The Heathen Throne and The Grim Awakening) but managing to do so in a way that feels utterly natural and fresh – expanding their early death metal palette, rather than abandoning it.
The thrashier stylings of The Grim Awakening have been drastically pared back to make room for a more cutting, blackened approach, replacing thrashing vigour with blackened vitriol, while maintaining the monstrous death metal heart of the band. The songs now have more of a cut and thrust to them, slashing and slicing with psychotic precision, where before they were, at times, simply content with a more bludgeoning form of sonic brutality.
Plaintive acoustic intro ‘The Veil’ certainly channels the ghost of early Opeth, all soothing darkness and haunting sorrow, before erupting into the explosive riffage and caustic vocals of ‘Blood Calls’. Crushing death metal heft is married to twisted blackened melody, while the vocals spit spite and venom, moving from a rending mid-ranged shriek to a bowel-rupturing guttural growl. The bass also continues to play a prominent role in the band’s sound – perhaps even more so than before due to the increased incidence of black metal elements – carrying brooding counter-melodies and accenting the track’s ravenous assault with a heavy helping of ugly groove.
Justifiably serving as the single and video from the EP, ‘Driven By The Dark’ has some seriously barbed hooks, which drive themselves deep even on first listen, and refuse to budge until the song has finished its filthy work. The riffs are as haunting as they are hammering, building up to an unexpected interlude of soothing clean guitar which precedes a move into even more brutal territory, unleashing a crushing death metal bloodbath, infected by a virulent strain of blackened sickness. After whipping the listener into a frenzy, then dropping them with an unexpected gut-level punch of violent aggression, the song ends on a punishing grinding riff, shot through with some liquid solo work and a gravelly, growled vocal refrain.
‘Casting The Shroud Aside’ errs more on the black metal side, initially at least, its contorted tremolo work and brutal vocals bringing to mind the more recent work of Polish blackened death lords Hate, before a sickeningly vicious riff announces a more Vader-esque twist to the track, bringing in a seamless, machine-gun groove, locked, loaded, and lethal. The track rises and falls in peaks and valleys of icy, blackened ferocity and earth-shaking death metal heaviness, twisting and turning with detonations of rapid-fire blast beats and sinuous coils of melodic menace, leading to a punishing mid-section of wrenching bass-led groove and sharp, staccato guitar work. The solo, as always is impeccably played, adding a welcome splash of crimson colour to the track’s blackened tapestry, while the ending of the track condenses all the preceding elements into one hideous display of beautiful brutality.
The last track on the EP ‘Under Ancient Stone’ races out of the gates with a brilliantly melodic Edge Of Sanity-style riff which crashes headlong into a storm of skin-blistering blast beats and throat-shredding vocals. Blast-heavy these moments may be, but the band don’t forget to inject the track with some megalodon grooves, spiky, thrusting riffs and plate-armoured dynamic shifts keeping the listener enveloped in crushing noise and metallic rapture. The track constantly calls back to a series of hook-laden uber-melodic riffs, which never lack in power despite their catchy-as-hell nature, keeping the whole composition feeling contained and controlled even as it threatens to collapse under the weight of its own hate-fuelled heaviness. It also ends with a hypnotically groovy riff that seemingly comes out of nowhere, but which allows the drumming an opportunity to really fly off the handle and play clever games with the listener’s expectations.
The only real downside of this EP is that it leaves you frantic for more – these 5 songs demonstrate such a distinctive growth and transition from the debut album (while maintaining the established identity of the band) that you’re left salivating like a rabid dog for more material to sink your teeth into.
Mission accomplished there then.
One last word about the stunning artwork/packaging by Richey Beckett that accompanies this release – it’s absolutely gorgeous, through and through, and deserves just as much attention as the music. There’s layers of subtlety and nuance to the art that tells a story in and of itself, and adds a welcome visual aesthetic to the EP as an experience.
Ancient Ascendant are, without doubt, one of the most deserving standard bearers of the UK metal scene right now, and Into The Dark is a near perfect distillation of why.
Get it. Get it now.