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The debut album of the Norwegian black metal band Ancient had fairly impressed me. With the sort of folkish influence that also made Ulver and Enslaved's first albums so magical, Ancient's left-of-centre approach to black metal was both surprising and effective. While this obscure band from the Norwegian scene had some great black metal riffs and howls going on, it was the more ambient and folky side of Ancient that got me hooked on them, it was something that distinguished them from the devilish hordes of the scene. 'The Cainian Chroncle' sees Ancient return again a couple of years later, and this time around, there is a heavier focus on the black metal aspects of this band. Although the black metal element of Ancient has been considerably improved from the last time around, its length and somewhat inconsistent second half puts the debut a slice above this one.
Ancient were a fairly progressive act for black metal at this stage, and the first four tracks of 'The Cainian Chronicle' compose the title track, a suite of music that seeks to tell some dark story that only black metal could be fitting of. Although this is very ambitious on paper, the music is not too much different from other Norwegian black metal this time around. There is a tad more of a melodic depth here than the par, but the music itself is fairly straightforward, focusing on giving a dark and powerful atmosphere. Aphazel's vocals here sound alike most black metal, but I find they are more comprehensible than most. Also, there are some spoken word sections which seem more for the sake of moving the story along than anything else. The music is fast paced and furious, but these otherwise generic black metal riffs become much stronger with the added melodic leads.
The first half of this album is very good, even better than Ancient's debut, I would say. Although there isn't that same folk vibe and most distinct style, Ancient's improvement in their black metal territory makes 'The Cainian Chronicle' a true feast of atmosphere. Sadly, the album goes on for far too long, and the second half is quite a bit less interesting or memorable than the first. After the title suite is over, the songs naturally start becoming less inspired. The interlude track 'Exu' is where I really noticed that 'The Cainian Chronicle' had taken a dive south, hearing convoluted tribal drums underneath what only sounds like a female and some chthonic hobgoblin reaching a state of sexual arousal together. I'm sure this may have had the intent of being a statement of primal energy or some new age philosophy, but it comes off as being pretty funny, and throws off the atmosphere that the first half of the album tried so hard to build up.
The final two tracks on the album are long enough to be called little epics of their own, but here, it definitely feels as if the album has drawn on for too long, and the riffs have become less melodic, and alot more generic. Ancient was certainly not lacking ambition here, but especially in the second half of this album, the ambition seems to turn on them, and results in something that overshoots the mark, and risks becoming monotonous before the end. If only this album had been edited and maintained that same sort of atmospheric beauty that those first few tracks demonstrated, 'The Cainian Chronicle' would have overshadowed its predecessor.
Constructed in the tradition of conceptual representation through musical drama in the classic style of the ‘rock opera’, The Cainian Chronicle unfolds its thematic events in storyteller fashion, utilizing melodic riffs and theatrical but not overly-embellished songwriting in an effort to visually evoke a nocturnal world of primal origination recalled in silent primordial remembrance, of a time and place experienced in disbelief through obscure dreams, a revelation of arcane mysteries of the essence of being, and a foreboding prophecy of terrifying destiny. Orthodox yet instinctively fluid drumming that nicely accents riffs through a variety of interestingly patterned cymbal hits provides a solid percussive stability of rhythm, while guitars use the black metal standard streaming style of melodic speed riffing, transitioning in seamless fluctuation as sections shift to reveal new thematic developments, utilizing clean tones in isolated passages to conjure the spirit of solitude or the dark embrace of sober realization. Vividly atmospheric guitar leads dynamically articulate the specific mood of thematic events to emphasize their significance and illuminate abstract components into harmony with elemental features of compositional framework actualized by supporting instruments, similar to the way Mecryful Fate used solos for thematic highlighting and conceptual clarity of structural design.
"Goat horned god
Wandering free in the woodlands and mystical forests
To thee I owe my manhood
For thine sexuality is untamed and pure"
Vocals impressive in their diversity and range of dynamic expression in piercing shrieks, grim croaks, shrill screams of wrath, along with clean melodic singing and ghostly female vocals, effectively represent characters in designated sections, unify with riff pattern and tone reflecting moods, structurally formatted to parallel lyrical events in tempo balanced in varieties of speed tempered by mid-paced movements defined by trance-like guitars and measured, simplistic drum beats given satisfying detail by a clear Unisound production which keeps drums thin and somewhat mechanical in sound, but not lacking in presence and assisted by the fundamentally sound and energetic drumming shared between Kjetil and vocalist Kaiaphas. Structured with the aid of a strong sense of theme development and conceptual vision, these songs exemplify the poetic flow of black metal composition while maintaining sharply detailed sectional divisions corresponding to an evolving storyline, distinguished by explicitly melodic songwriting executed with pronounced musicality, making this one of black metal’s more musically accessible examples that remains faithful to the spiritual essence of the style. In the thematic exploration of mythology within pagan spirituality and vampyric lore, the music sets a dark and solitary mood of primeval loneliness and enraged sorrow as existential qualities contracted in the formation of being from deep within the earth, dramatically portrayed in the music’s atmosphere, with particular attention directed toward the mystical ambiance generated from entrancing keyboards as a representation of esoteric mysteries inherent in human nature.
While not a top-tier release of the genre, The Cainian Chronicle is nevertheless a captivating and intriguing album, overlooked due mostly to the embarrassing and shameless efforts that followed that scarred Ancient’s name, particularly for those whose introduction to the band originated with those heavily marketed and widely available poor works. In its communicative imagination and involving compositional design contrasting the clarity of spiritual enlightenment with the enigmatic nature of originative force, this album successfully achieves its attempt of using dramatically unfolding structures expressed in the tenebrous energy and aesthetic of black metal to represent the search for archaic wisdom in the dark destiny of life as a journey towards death.
Half of The Cainan Chronicle is a concept album based on an interesting story drawing from Christian mythology on what happened to Cain -- he wanders Nod, is comforted by Lilith (sexy Kim Goss), boldly rejects God's grace, becomes a vampire, and then I think kills his own daughter/wife(!) Zillah. The second half of the album draws from and pays tribute to pagan mythological themes.
Musically, it's rather bland black metal with decent production. Many of the riffs are very roughly Venom/Bathory/Hellhammer influenced, but twisted to be seemingly less ugly and evil, but nevertheless includes some elements of poorly executed droning and decent tremolo. The solos and leads aren't half bad, but certainly aren't anything special. The drumming is repetitive and bland, and does not stand out. The vocals consist mostly of Kaiaphas' raspy screeching, but Kim Goss shows up in the first halfway decent singing, and sometimes does what sounds like her putting on a deep voice and trying to sound like a man! Keyboards are used in the album, but in more of an ambient and tasteful capacity.
The only song that's particularly memorable is Lilith's Embrace. The video, if you can find it floating around, is terribly hilarious and must be seen! Kaiaphas looks like (mid-90s) Marilyn Manson half the time, between a skinny, shirtless, pale dude with long black hair and some blue face with vampire fangs, and he drinks blood from Kim Goss' wrist as Ancient rokks out in front of a bunch of fires.
When put together, most of the album is musically tiring, boring, and often sounds the same, and is black metal that you really can go through life without hearing and die sated, but fails to be awful and has its moments. Overall, it's rather mediocre, with the only notable thing about it being the 1998 murder in Finland being tied to it. However, I have no clue why those three Finns who murdered/butchered/necrophiled/cannibalized that man chose this album to do it to, there's nothing that special or particularly inspired about it.