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It is always nice to see when all parts of a jigsaw suddenly fit together at last. With regard to Ancient, I made a similar experience. After the trollish debut of the Norwegians, they needed four attempts to create an album where everything matched almost perfectly. In my opinion, "Proxima Centauri" marks the absolute pinnacle of their discography. But let´s tackle things one at a time.
The title track opened the album after a short intro. Already this song exploded like a bomb. I was really surprised that the full-length was kicked off by such a harsh, fast-paced and intensive track. Unlike before, no superfluous break destroyed the force of this tune and its most furious and best part started at 2.53. But I have to acknowledge that the band had always been able to distinguish itself with excellent openers. The endurance test was yet to come. Aphazel and his bandmates passed it with flying colours while reaching their full potential. Perhaps one of the reasons for the formidable result was that the compositions came more than before straight to the point. This applied even to the fairly epic tracks that did not suffer from redundant parts. Instead, the full-length was characterized by the following features.
Ingenious riffs (at the colossal beginning of "The Ancient Horadrim"), heavily pounding parts ("The Witch"), hypnotizing sections (at the end of "In the Abyss of the Cursed Souls", which also offers an almost oriental flair) and aggressive eruptions ("On Blackest Wings") - all these components led to a very convincing overall picture. The album was much more intensive than its predecessors. In addition, the well thought-out order of the songs created a fascinating flow. It was only interrupted by the useless sound collage "Audrina, My Sweet". But the pretty shitty gothic touch, that had unfortunately left its mark on the previous full-lengths, was banished. It was replaced by a predominantly aggressive aura. It seemed like the band had been injected with a massive dose of malignancy. Regardless of the considerably varying tempo of the single songs, each and every tune possessed a dark and menacing atmosphere. From the perspective of a metalhead, the significant reduction of soft parts constituted a welcome step in the right direction. This development was the main reason why the album could be considered as a pure black metal work. Besides that, Aphazel´s voice appeared a bit more vicious than before and - even more remarkable - Kristine had turned to a female beast that contributed a more or less harsh vocal performance.
In view of the production, there was nothing noteworthy to report. The full sound did its job without possessing outstanding features. The same applied to the packaging, to the cover as well as to the booklet. On a positive note, one could concentrate fully on the music. It was interesting, diversified and suspenseful while being designed with the right level of melody. Admittedly, there were still some sequences with a very dominant keyboard. But in general, it was used intelligently. Simply spoken, this was a metal album. One was not confronted with a high gloss polished work that suffered from inappropriate aesthetic demands. Therefore, I strongly recommend to enjoy very well done exhibits such as "On Blackest Wings" or "Eyes of the Dead". They reflect the malicious essence of "Proxima Centauri" in the most impressive manner. But do not forget to listen to the other songs, too. You will not regret it.
For some reason I’ve always had something of a passing interest in Ancient’s music. Perhaps it’s just the curiosity of understanding a band which was able to go from producing some great, original black metal in the very beginning of their career (the Det Glemte Riket EP) to become utter degenerates of awful music only three years later (Mad Grandiose Bloodfiends). Another few years later and we have this album. Proxima Centauri is evidently Ancient, but curiously enough is neither equal to the top of their career beginning nor to their most abysmal of years.
Instead, Proxima Centauri is a relatively decent, if ultimately unmemorable and forgettable album. There music here is a watered-down form of black metal, sounding most like a sloppy kind of Dimmu Borgir, without any of the symphonic elements or energetic performance which makes that band’s music worth listening to. The music consists of black metal riffs which are more melodic than the genre’s usual stuff, and generally these riffs are pretty good, although, once again, nothing exceptional happens. On the other hand, the drumming is actually pretty competent and interesting to hear, with actual variation helping the album’s overall cause. Unfortunately, another external influence makes its presence felt and, although it’s subtle enough to avoid turning this album into pure crap, it’s still not helping its cause: Cradle of Filth. From the overall melodic sound to several precise elements, most notably the rare but ill-placed female vocals and the extremely stupid female spoken interlude, Audrina, My Sweet, this album bears not-silent-enough witness to Aphazel and his gang having listened to Britain’s often-a-disaster band.
If there’s one element allowing the listener to realize that this is an Ancient album, it’s Aphazel’s vocal work. Aphazel can best be described as a second-tier black metal vocalist, trying to imitate more well-known characters like Shagrath and Abbath but meeting only very limited success. He doesn’t sound actively bad, but his originality is at an all-time low, except for actually being recognizable as the Ancient guy. Oh well, at least reviewing this album didn’t require me to watch his… special… performances within the band’s large quantity of low quality music videos.
As bad as much of this might sound, Ancient’s music does have a few highlights here and there and in Proxima Centauri’s case, the last song, Eyes of the Dead, is pretty damn good as a melodic black metal song which features an excellent usage of keyboards and some true aggression inserted into the music. The song is a memorable ending to a relatively unremarkable album.
There’s a final little element which demands attention on this album, and that’s the lyrical content. Most of it consists of the usual satanic stuff, simplified by your local melodic death metal band, but one song takes exception to that: The Ancient Horadrim. This song is actually inspired by the world of Diablo (I, II and soon III), the popular role-playing games. For anyone who actually knows a bit about that fictional universe:
for I am izual the fallen guardian
banned from the ancient horadrim
aeryel and tyrael my brothers now slayed
These lyrics leave little doubt as to what the band were inspired by and, in the end, it’s rather funny and interesting, if a bit geek-worthy. Still, for some reason Diablo and Ancient work well together, aesthetically speaking if not musically.
In the end, Ancient’s newest output, if Proxima Centauri is anything to go by, is a compromise between the band’s brilliant beginnings and their awful mid-era career. For those who like melodic black metal this might be worth a listen but, in the end, it’s far from essential. Instead, those interested should head for Ancient’s first EP and album for some real black metal.