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No bells and whistles necessary - 70%

Pratl1971, November 29th, 2011

I’m not sure that you can call it a ‘rash’ of female-fronted doom bands popping up in the metal movement of late, but there certainly is a few really solid acts that come to mind that seem hell-bent on reshaping the genre. Jex Thoth, Salome, Dark Castle and Serpentcult are recent bands that come to immediate mind. Add Canada’s Blood Ceremony to that lush mix and you’re finding a new rebirth ready to explode in resonating fashion before the mucky denizens find it and start bands all over basements and shopping malls the world over.

Blood Ceremony puts forth its second effort in Living with the Ancients, and it is a true lesson in musical witchcraft and the occult not really heard to a high degree in recent years. The obligatory comparisons and referencing to Coven is unavoidably part-and-parcel with this music when a female singer is involved, but where Jinx Dawson and company might have left off in staunch bravado and theatrical embellishment bands like Blood Ceremony are carrying on a down-tempo echoing that certainly feels very early 70’s but doesn’t get inexplicably ‘stuck’ there.

The flute offered in such subtle design by vocalist Alia O’Brien is not as elaborate or historically necessary as Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, who finds it a decades-long stapling of the instrument; it’s a musical device expertly inserted in the proper places for an all-encompassment effect. O’Brien possesses a strong, albeit calming quality to her voice that, unlike the aforementioned Dawson, doesn’t rely on over-amplification and often repetitious theatrics for her point to be made. The even tone and blatant dissolution of caustic or vibrato-heavy issuance is what makes her most enjoyable.

What Black Sabbath created in heavy metal with horrifyingly deep and darkened chords is wholly interpreted here in the edges of this type of doom, yet there seems to be a very innate sense of separation between the 70’s feel of “Lord of the World” and “My Demon Brother”, both weighty tracks by themselves but undeniably generations apart. While many bands deign to outright copy from bands like Sabbath or St. Vitus without care or confidence in their own materials, Blood Ceremony twists the genre ever slightly with a myriad of familiar chord structures and riffs that somehow are made as interesting as their previous owners. This actually screams more prog-doom than anything else, to be truthful. Usually when a band of this type gets into the studio the bells and whistles come out and criminally drape the entire feel of the album in mocking inflexibility. Blood Ceremony comes out of the mausoleum doors in a slow, constructed pace and delivers amazing tracks like “Morning of the Magicians” that is sorrowed and haunting as that beautiful flute carries up and over the music like a sightless bird literally free-form cascading through an invisible tunnel of sounds and emotions that are full and deservedly lush throughout. Tull’s Anderson is most definable in the very end of the track, but it is really just causal homage and not thievery.

As steeped in the occultist themes as this record is there is no room for over-statement or boring triviality; quite the opposite, the references are veiled and not as openly tangible, lending an even quieter serendipity to the album. The foundational attributes that are finely crafted and delivered in Living with the Ancients are a testament to just how powerful this sub-movement has potential to be in the current day, calling upon elders and minions alike to help spread the dark word to any and all comers. Doom metal at its best can be found within the confines of Blood Ceremony’s cloak-and-circumstance aura not easily denied.

(Originally written for www.metalpsalter.com)

Organ - Check, Flute - Check, Awesome - Check - 86%

wire_forest, September 7th, 2011

Blood Ceremony’s album, ‘Living with the Ancients’, seems to have thrown up a wide variety of responses, some thinking it’s amazing, some OK, and some seem to think it just doesn’t work. Well, I definitely fall into the category of loving this album. The music here is that 60/70’s retro doom sound that quite a few bands seem to be playing at the moment, although Blood Ceremony in my opinion are one of the bands doing better than the majority of the pack, mixing in flute and organ elements along with female vocals that all blend seamlessly into their music. From the first song on the album, ‘The Great God Pan’, I was hooked on the retro vibe that was on show here. The guitars are great on all 9 tracks, showing some great 70’s riffs but also some great lead work that when entangled with the work of Alia O’Brien (Vocals, Organ, Flute) sounds unbelievable. Talking of Alia O’Brien, I must say I am more impressed with her on this album than on previous efforts as everything she does here just seems so much better than on their s/t release. In fact, I would go as far to say this release surpasses their s/t in nearly every way (and I love their s/t album)! The drum work whilst not being spectacular fits the music perfectly and the same can be said for the bass. Like I said, everything just seems to fit here. With the album clocking in at just under an hour, it isn’t short enough to feel like you have been short-changed, but also not too long that you feel like blasting something else out through the speakers. The album cover is OK, again nothing special, and I do probably prefer the cover for their s/t, but that doesn’t detract in any way from the music being played here!

If you are not into retro-sounding doom/heavy metal, then I wouldn’t bother picking this up as you will probably not like it. If you are however, then I can’t recommend this album enough as everything just seems to slot into place nicely and gives great replay value as I’m still engrossed when listening to this even after many, many spins! The flute and organ elements really add something to this album and really do make it a stand out. The cd of 2011 so far! As I said, this isn’t for everyone, but for those that dig this sound, well, you are in for a treat!

Somehow Forgettable and Boring - 42%

GuntherTheUndying, June 16th, 2011

Blood Ceremony is definitely "too retro," if there is such a thing. The amount of obscure elements from the 1960s and 70s they blindly heave into their music is almost staggering, with flutes, organs, Black Sabbath's traditional doom metal and female vocals all working together underneath this ritualistic effort of occult phenomena. Their influences and basic characteristics are fairly outlandish, which should make for an interesting experience, but "Living with the Ancients" surprisingly succumbs to the plight of careless experimentation embracing a musical front with little to no zest. Blood Ceremony's primordial attractions are sadly just primordial, and the scope of fascination clouds through each and every listen.

Sad thing is, Blood Ceremony has an abundant amount of unique characteristics. As I said, Alia O'Brien is, of course, a female vocalist, and there are foreign instruments which conjure an image of a black mass after the original Woodstock. With that being said, it quickly becomes the duty of the listener to expect the unexpected, and that's precisely what Blood Ceremony followers get: flute solos occur more than guitar solos, O' Brien's distinct voice vibrates a gloomy chord of despair and magic, and so on. It's not that these norms are bad in nature, but Blood Ceremony fails to justify them; it all becomes very bland and apathetic. Not to mention the unusual instruments often feel misplaced, and some of the obtuse melodies are almost too goofy to take seriously.

The album starts in tame fashion with "The Great God Pan," a rocking Sabbath-inspired doom cut which sets the tone for "Living with the Ancients." Nice, fun and catchy, but really the only highlight of the record besides "Coven Tree," an authentic slice of Blood Ceremony honestly believing they are from the 1960s. Most of the remaining record carries on, minus anything to hook the listener, and Blood Ceremony's obvious woes move onwards while carelessly plodding through dull, overlong numbers like "Oliver Haddo" and "Night of Augery." The closing "Daughter of the Sun" has a few moments of brilliance, but two-thirds of the listening experience is completely forgettable overall.

Today's lesson is simple: using influence that are unknown or unexpected to most metal fans does not instantly satisfy the musical needs of metal fans. Granted, Blood Ceremony has a formula at hand that really could make for an inspiring and enthralling postulate, but it's the faction's poor application of these atypical ideas and lackluster song writing which ultimately makes "Living with the Ancients" a forgettable, haphazard, inconsistent release. Still, this may be something to check out if and only if you believe Blood Ceremony could reach an interesting peak with their blueprint, but this reviewer thinks it's colder than damp sand.

This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com

A great throwback/doom record - 96%

WorldEaterMetal, June 6th, 2011

I've been listening to this album repeatedly since I got it. It's much stronger than their first release (which I really, really dug at the time). Right of the bat, the album weaves the atmosphere of a musky, smoky cave, breeding the ambiance of classic '70s horror. A crunchy and often droning guitar sounds like it was right out of a period Orange/Marshall stack, thick but crunchy and groovy, almost like a Physical Graffiti-style tone. Sean Kennedy isn't about to shred Suicmez under the table, but he's got great vintage chops and a fair helping of bollocks. In the seventies he'd have been a cult hero; a lot of doom bands could benefit from a lead guitarist like him, rare enough but very well placed, pretty but concise and effective, commanding and noticeable but never over-emphasized.

As for the bass tone, it's relatively low in the mix but it's typical seventies. The bass is subtle enough but keeps the rhythm bouncing and its presence is perhaps sensed more than heard. One advantage throwback records have to the actual seventies is that the drums are crisp and well-miked, but the drums here are ballsy and have presence without commanding the mix. And that's as it should be, because the focus should really be on Alia O'Brien and her voice, her fantastic flute, and the welcome organ.

Without her, Blood Ceremony would be a great Black Sabbath-y band, but with her, surpass that initial evaluation considerably. Tony Iommi famously had a brief stint in Jethro Tull, and if you borrowed a great female vocalist and one of Richie Blackmore's various organists, you might have a band approaching the quality of Blood Ceremony right now. I had quite the hard-on for Jex Thoth for a while, and although it's an unfair comparison in many ways, I quite prefer Alia O'Brien's work with Blood Ceremony. It's an unfair comparison because Jex Thoth goes for a far more basic, almost archaic approach, whereas although Blood Ceremony NEVER feels crowded, it certainly has a bit more going on. At the end of the day it's still a four-piece though, and despite the occasional guitar overdub you never lose sight of that.

How does it stack up to the previous record? It's a hard comparison because on paper they should be awfully similar, yet they exude such a different vibe. Living With The Ancients is a more mature, polished-feeling version of Blood Ceremony and I highly recommend it to any fans of doom metal or '70s rock/prog. It's definitely worth your dollar.

Female-Fronted Retro Doom . . . with Jazz Flute? - 60%

FullMetalAttorney, May 19th, 2011

The whole retro doom vibe is something that really interests me, and there are a few bands who shake up the formula just enough to make themselves stand out. Like Jex Thoth, Blood Ceremony uses a female vocalist to do the trick.

Living with the Ancients is the Canadians' second full-length, and it doesn't have anything to make it seem consciously retro. Instead, they've adopted the old school and made it their own, making the guitars sound much thicker than the old and the production much clearer. They use electric organ on many tracks, like other bands channeling the 70's, but on other tracks they've done something different. Flutes. It seems like a good idea, maybe?

The results are mixed. The organ tracks tend to be the standouts, like "Oliver Haddo" with its "Into the Void" inspired riff or "My Demon Brother" with its incredibly catchy chorus. But the flute stuff is just strange. Some times it sounds folky, but mostly it sounds like jazz flute (see "Coven Tree"). That's just disconcerting. And they put a lot of focus on the instrument, with flute solos being the centerpiece of two disposable instrumental tracks.

It's pretty hit and miss. There are a few entirely forgettable tracks like "Morning of the Magicians" and "Night of Augury". The opener and closer, while strong, drag on longer than necessary. But there are also some very strong moments, and the vocals are enchanting.

The Verdict: For my money, the best female-fronted trad-doom band is Jex Thoth. But Blood Ceremony isn't bad, and if you just can't get enough of the style then you don't have a whole lot of other options anyway.

originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/

On hippies and horned ones - 77%

autothrall, March 7th, 2011

Canadians Blood Ceremony committed their debut ritual in 2008 and I just could not get enough of its myriad charms, led by the vocal promise of Alia O'Brien and the an atmosphere that sounded as if it had been wrought from many an acid binge, Sabbath or Hammer Horror film session. Three years later, they have returned through Rise Above Records with their sophomore, Living With the Ancients, and have thankfully not abandoned their occult starved visage, grooving guitars and organs. There is not so much of a commitment on this album to sounding 'old', because the guitar tones seem to be thicker as they snake their way across the lighter mixed vocals, but otherwise it channels the same, smoky, serpentine nostalgia.

"The Great God Pan" is a decent opener, primarily in how the bold, open chords covet and cloak O'Brien's drifting vocals, but "Coven Tree" immediately cranks up the morbidity with its dire flute melodies, jarring start/stop riffs and Alia's more desperate, soul-filled performance. The folk instrumental "The Hermit" spins some Tull into the fray, and "My Demon Brother" is a total crushing Black Widow/Sabbath style piece with desperately wants a lift in time back to the early 70s, but you'll also notice that the guitars here also disperse heavier distortion that wouldn't be out of place on a Witchcraft or Cathedral record. But the true winners on this album are found deeper into its content, through the epic, retrofitted "Morning of the Magicians" and the enormous closer "Daughter of the Sun", which is over 10 minutes long of frilly fuzz and desert-injected doom. Special mention also for the "Night of Augury" and its swerving interplay of guitar and organ, and layered vocal arrangement.

Living With the Ancients just bleeds atmosphere, so if you're of the sinister stoner subtype who dwells within dreams of archaic horror flicks or bad memories, then you probably want to check this out, though I'd be more apt to recommend the debut, which had a less muddy crushing tone to it but a lot creepier songwriting. That said, Blood Ceremony is still one of the more promising bands to come along on Rise Above in years, and I've been enjoying their sound more than the other female fronted doom acts like Serpentcult and Jex Thoth. Just about every night is Hallows Eve when you're curled up with a joint, a black light and an album like one, so if that warmth and menace appeals to your baser instincts, then dig it up.

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com