It’s an unusual way to discover a band; looking for cool t-shirt designs online and then after finding one that looks amazing, checking the band out on YouTube to see if they’re any good… About five seconds in to the first video I clicked on, a live studio session of “Following the Voice”, I realised this was something very special and for the next six and a half minutes it just got better and better. This was one of those “have to instantly buy this” scenarios. This particular album, Voice of the Void, I’d rate up there alongside the very best in the whole progressive genre; it’s an unknown classic and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
After months of telling everyone I know about them and making a new group of Anciients fans in the process, I get an email notification that they are playing Glasgow and added to that there’s the fact that the main support are a band called Black Wizard. The name alone pretty much won me over – I do like a good sludgy/stoner-rock style band name…
A Wednesday night and a venue that I’ve played more gigs in than I can remember, and it’s fair to say that I’m already pretty hyped up as the first band of the night, Edinburgh’s own Sapien, take to the stage. The noise, a warm and disconcertingly pleasing feedback that comes out of both guitars before they’ve even hit the first note, is a good indicator that I’m going to like them, and like them I do. A tough band to fully categorise; there’s a lot of sludge to their sound, but with complex structures and unusual time signatures. They sound fantastic and the two guitars blend well together with some genuinely excellent riffs while the absolutely fierce rhythm section pretty much blows me away. The drums rarely do what you would expect but always do something that fits and adds a huge level of interest to the songs. The bassist is absolutely solid and ties the whole thing together fantastically. The gruff vocals from both guitarists are effective but fairly sparse throughout the set, however with music as interesting as this you don’t need more than they provide. Fantastic start to the night and they’ve got a converted fan here.
A short while later and Black Wizard, Vancouver based hometown friends of Anciients get started. I’m expecting something in the vein of stoner-rock or a bit sludgy, given the name and the merch artwork, however, very soon into the first song I realise that this is only going to be a little of what we’re getting. The very melodic guitar harmonising between Daniel and Adam reminds me of early Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy; some exceptionally catchy melodies and great riffs can be found in pretty much every song they play and it makes for a really enjoyable set. I should also add that I love a good bluesy guitar solo and Black Wizard supply a truckload of them and throughout the thirty plus minutes they’re on, the whole band look like they’re having a great time which is pretty infectious… They leave the stage to a very healthy response from the crowd and deservedly so.
I should add that considering Anciients have never played Scotland before and it is, as I already mentioned, a Wednesday night, there’s a surprising amount of people at Ivory Blacks! The headliners get themselves set up quickly and launch straight into “Built to Die” (amidst a lot of cheering from the crowd) from their debut EP Snakebeard – though a newer version can also be found on their first album Heart of Oak.
With another trip back to their older material via “Overthrone” I notice just how good the sound is in Ivory Black’s tonight. The guitars are powerful but also clear and distinct from one another. The bass sounds amazing and demonstrates the sheer quality of Orange amps and speakers as Boon (Aaron Gustafson) isn’t using any pedals other than his tuner. And yeah, I’m a bit of an Orange fan; my spare room is testament to this fact…
At this point in the set they launch into “Following the Voice” and I actually get goose bumps. As I’ve already mentioned it’s an incredible song, but seeing it played live was something else. The whole end section with some slightly Voivod-esque riffs leaves me at a loss for words. The young drummer Mike Hannay, shows a level of musical maturity, on this song in particular, that a lot of older drummers would do well to pay attention to. To be honest though, he plays incredibly throughout and his drumbeats always emphasise the songs rather than distract you from them.
The guitar playing here is in a different class to almost anything I’ve seen this close up. Kenny Cook, who is also the main vocalist, has an ability to play extremely complex riffs and sing simultaneously beyond most singer-musicians I can think of. It’s quite something to behold, especially when you’re like me and can barely utter a single syllable grunt while playing the most basic of riffs.
They continue on with the epic “Ibex Eye” and it’s easy to see that every member of the band is worth paying attention to, as each of their parts are so strong. Kenny had a “string malfunction” by this point in the set and did a very quick switch to his back-up guitar – I’ll just say that Gibson would have been very happy if they’d seen basically any of the guitars played on the night by all three bands…
The home stretch of the final three songs sees them go from “My Home, My Gallows” into “Raise the Sun” (the fantastic opener from Heart of Oak) and from there into the final song of the night, “Buried in Sand”. I get goose bumps again during this and honestly can’t explain just how fucking good this was! There’s not a huge amount of talking in between songs as there isn’t really time – Anciients songs are long; the shortest song on the night isn’t far off seven minutes… There is a little banter and shared appreciation between the Vancouver natives and us Brits for the legendary take-away “munchie boxes”.
I’d love to see these guys get the kind of attention that bands like Mastodon get, who aren’t a million miles away musically. In my opinion they’re easily as good and being only two albums into their career I’d love to see where they can go and how the music will change over time.
I might have been told that come the winter, they’re likely to lock themselves in the studio and get to work on the next album… And like another chance to see them live, that’s something I’d really, really be looking forward to!