Ancient Empire – Other World (2016)

The New Wave Of True Heavy Metal (NWOTHM) rages on with California’s Ancient Empire. The movement has now lasted for far too long and with far too much sincerity to be pigeonholed with other retro-themed metal subgenres. Big chords, rousing choruses, and aesthetically pleasing guitar lines; on the surface, a fairly insipid description, but the magic of this style exists both despite and because of those attributes. Is it only something as simple as nostalgia? A yearning for a bygone era, reminiscence of an innocence lost?

Maybe there’s a little of that, but purity is the overwhelming reason why this style still holds such appeal. An abstract concept, but as much as great extreme metal, great heavy metal retains an ideological/musical homogeneity about it. A strange idea to digest, again, because of how different the means they employ for achieving their musical aspirations are; extreme metal shuns melody, heavy metal embraces it; extreme metal is often implicitly progressive, heavy metal can be progressive but at great risk of losing its spontaneity and original character; but when you’ve removed these periphera and isolated the cause and effect of that one true stirring of blood, how different really are the two forms?

Other World is this band’s second album, expertly modeled in part after Iron Maiden‘s legendary run from Powerslave onwards in the 80s. Many a band have paid obeisance at that altar but posterity will rank this album among the finest from that oeuvre. The other inspirations – and I use the term cautiously, seeing how these are veteran musicians who experienced the scene first hand – are German speed/heavy metal classics like Accept, Helloween, and early Blind Guardian. Those associations automatically imply a bevy of twin harmonies, solos and double bass rolls, all reminiscent of Pharaoh/High Spirit‘s Chris Black, all helmed by a wonderful vocalist/guitarist in Joe Liszt; setting up stall in a broad and resonant but also surprisingly youthful middle register, he occupies these songs with a rare passion; it isn’t the performance of a virtuoso, but it is virtuous all the same.

Perhaps the one quality that sets Ancient Empire apart from the pack is their talent at coloring their rhythmic progressions; heavy metal is an inherently straightforward form of music, relying chiefly upon chord shapes to introduce and develop mood and narrative. It is a credit to Ancient Empire that they can operate at about the same speeds and still maneuver song trajectory with aptitude in any one of exuberant, aggressive, or melancholic directions, and often within the same song.

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