Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ancestors - Of Sound Mind

It’s funny that L.A.’s Ancestors initially formed as a stoner-metal jam band in 2006. The idea sounds so uninspired. Presumably, they wanted to fuse massive Black Sabbath-styled riffs with The Grateful Dead’s loose sense of song structure, a combination that, in concert, would have wandered aimlessly at maximum volume. But with artists like The Melvins, Sleep, and Neurosis already having claimed similar territory, I’m not sure what Justin Maranga (guitar, vocals), Nick Long (bass), and Brandon Pierce (drums) could have added. Thank goodness the trio grew bored with this direction and decided to expand their sound to include organ (Jason Watkins) and keyboard/electronics (Chico Foley). Not only did the resulting quintet incorporate a wider range of instruments and influences — King Crimson, Karl Stockhausen, Miles Davis — but they also found new ways to explore familiar terrain. Here’s the irony: the band that began as a trite retread of metal’s recent history spends most of their latest release, Of Sound Mind, asserting themselves as one of the genre’s next pioneers.

Intended as a double LP on vinyl, the new album consists of four long pieces bracketed by shorter instrumental interludes. “Mother Animal,” the first of the longer pieces, begins with a monumental guitar homage to Sabbath, complete with doom-laden lyrics that reference pagan rituals: “Slowly the season brings release/ From the famine of the beast…/ August has come/ Harvest has begun.” The song continues along well-established patterns; low-tuned guitars weave through pastoral passages, while Maranga screams indecipherable phrases. Up to this point, Of Sound Mind sounds like every other psychedelic metal album out there, but then, unexpectedly, the tempo slows and Watkins’ organ moves to the foreground. With this shift, the band confounds all expectations. It’s a radical choice in such a guitar-oriented genre, but having the organ take the lead is undeniably refreshing. Soon after, Maranga abandons the standard metal growl for a cleaner intonation, and what started as an obvious Black Sabbath tribute ends with an elaborate trip into progressive rock territory.

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1. From Nothing
2. Mother Animal
3. Not The Last Return
4. Bounty Of Age
5. A Friend
6. The Trial
7. Challenging
8. The Ambrose Law

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