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This is what black metal is supposed to be! You wouldn't think it's a very complicated thing to figure out, but too many miss the point. Amorphous blackened... stuff... that uses the trio of metal instruments is not black metal. Necromantia's Ancient Pride is, in its healthiest form. A Manowar cover may not be kvlt, but it serves to remind listeners that, as a metal sub-genre, this ought to be guitar oriented music. That's what we get to enjoy here: heavy, evil music.
Yup, you gotta keep it musical. A tip of the hat to George Panou for grasping that in his drum performance. He can blast beat when extremity is appropriate, but is equally adept at kicking along with a song of more traditional metal or folkish structure. While holding true to the general pattern of a slower song, Panou still flexes his technicality by tossing some extra rolls, snares and cymbalage in there. Don't worry about a simpler song limiting him to basic beats! It won't happen.
The major driver of invention here is the string section. Two of the three original Necromantia songs contain fantastic, memorable riffs; presented in a jagged, sharp yet damn heavy recording quality. A pleasing level of buzz around the edges never once threatens to turn the whole experience swampy and pointless. "Ancient Pride" lets the keys and flutes compete with the guitar for melodic leadership, as the guitar riffs on the same folk tune.
But what really puts this head and shoulders above the black metal pack is the unique prominence of the basses. That's right, bass plural. The two of them ratchet up the oomph in unexpected ways. It's not enough to just thicken the bass by having two plod along homophonically in unison. No, the second bass is an 8-stringer, allowing more speed more easily, such that this monster bass even overtakes the guitar as lead and solo instrument at times! I've never heard anything like it. And that takes nothing away from the traditional bass. Most other typical black metal wishes it could match this bass, both for rhythmic creativity and general audibility. Necromantia's proper instrument balancing brings everyone to the fore, far from the drum and vocal gong show that so sadly prevailed in the 1990s.
Vocally, Daoloth alternates from a Falkenbachy screech to a clearer late-80s Quorthonic snarl. Generally speaking, the opener and closer lean more on the second-wave black metal style, while the middle songs are more experimental. The softer tone is well suited to the slower pace of these two. We even experience some clean singing in "For the Light of My Darkness", which is again germane to the song's character.
This will sound strange when referring to a short, four-song outing, but Ancient Pride can be divided into two sections. The title track and "Shaman" represent the pagan heritage black metal side. "Shaman" is built on a ceremonial chorus riff that launches into speedy black fury. Finest guitar work on the album. Both the melodic and chaotic sides are supported by appropriate shifts in drum style by George Panou. The keys are subtle, but effective at conveying some additional grandeur.
The title song reminds me strongly of Bathory's "Shores in Flames", both vocally and rhythmically. To their credit, Necromantia know the difference between showing their influences and ripping them off. The addition of the flute as melody leader cements this song as original, along with the subject matter. "Ancient Pride" succinctly captures the oft-misunderstood relationship between paganism and Satanic symbolism. "You came and slaughtered Odin. You came and murdered Zeus. Our gods became your Satan, so Satan became our god." This iconic reversal is the purpose of Satan, which trendy black metal followers have missed.
The other side to this EP is really two influences in its own right. "Each Dawn I Die" stays true to the Manowar original, construction-wise. At the same time, Necromantia stamps it as their own in a respectful way. You might expect a cover of this sort to be the right place to tone down the vocals, but it is actually the most consistently blackened singing on this record. Quite an effective curveball to the listener! Among black metal covers of old heavy classics, this song outstrips Naglfar's take on "The Evil That Men Do". And keep in mind that I'm very defensive when it comes to bands rehashing anything from my favourite band, Iron Maiden.
Compared to the higher tempo of "Shaman", "Ancient Pride" and "Each Dawn I Die", the clear black sheep of the record is "For the Light of My Darkness". It's a mid-pace gothic love song -no, wait, don't turn it off! This is quality stuff! This doesn't take the easy road. The band features a talented keyboardist, but don't rely on him for the gothic styling. Keys are only present to accompany the chorus, and carry the bridge to the last verse. Instead, they maintain an emotional yet darkly alluring atmosphere by repeating a bewitching guitar riff, which is harder to do. There is some layering of the snarled vocals with some clean passages. Thankfully, the cleans have bite. No woe-is-me heartbroken faggotry here!
Necromantia has everything you want in black, and everything you want in metal. They perfectly understand the necessity of being rooted in the heaviness of the (sub)-genre's origins. At the same time, they update it with their own twists and flourishes of the soon-to-explode folky style. These Greeks should be recognised as true pioneers and essential listening for anyone seeking the truest essence of metal.
Unless my present Hellenic adventures proves otherwise, I must adhere to the foregone conclusion that Scarlet Evil Witching Black is the best black metal album ever conceived from this great country. How fucking glorious can something get? Naturally, then, it's a given that just about anything Magus Wampyr Daoloth would release beyond that would have some fairly high standards to live up to, and I'm not sure Ancient Pride passes inspection with quite that level of magnificence. It's a far less substantial release, being an EP, and there are but three new originals and one cover, but where much of the material provides the same, sweeping and ghastly bombast as the prior full-lengths, there are a few boring moments that burden it.
Most of these moments come in the opener, "Shaman", which is largely conceived of straight and generic black metal using the second bass as the guitar line. Wherever the track adopts some atmosphere (the intro, the synthesized choir background) it begins to brighten, but the actual driving riffs leave much to desire. "Ancient Pride" itself is a more glorious venture, with swinging flutes that transport into a prim pagan verse supported by Magus' gnarled vocals, synths and low-end pumping bass line, before the inevitable black metal eruption. Almost a Gothic/black initiative, and followed by "For the Light of My Darkness", which travels a comparable path to the title track, loaded with atmosphere and a soothing, tranquil bridge. Both of these tunes do lack the vicarious venom of Scarlet Evil Witching Black or Crossing the Fiery Path, but they at least they build a nice contrast against the thundering black segments.
Lastly, Necromantia have covered Manowar's "Each Dawn I Die" from the 1984 album Hail to England, and I must not so guiltily admit that it's the best thing about this EP. The track just works so wonderfully with the chugging bass-lines and Daoloth's atmospheric slather, and you get the same feelings of cheesy magnificence the original once evoked. Truly fantastic, and even if this wasn't the first Greek extreme metal band to do such a cover (Nightfall visited "Thor" on their Eons Aura EP), it's one of the better Manowar renditions I've ever heard. Even the sound itself reminds me of what the original might have been were those New York barbarians more sneering and aggressive. A fine treat to close out what are otherwise the mixed results of this 22 minute fan treatise, and just enough of a nudge that it escalates to the category of worth hearing.
The first music of Necromantia I heard was their debut album "Crossing the Fiery Path" (which I reviewed as well) and it didn't get me too excited. Sure, it was obscure and had an original concept (the dual basses) but the songwriting was chaotic and while the aforementioned concept was indeed very good, it wasn't executed too well.
But just recently, I read about "Ancient Pride" on the internet and decided to give it a try. Damn, was I blown away by it. "Ancient Pride" takes all the ingredients of "Crossing the Fiery Path" and mixes them almost perfectly. One of the main problems on the latter album was the riffing. While it was indeed strong at parts, the lack of guitar was apparent. This has changed here. The two basses create an awesome flow and a fantastic low-end sound that makes "Ancient Pride" catchy and pretty damn heavy for a Black Metal album. The riffs shine and manage to create the typical mediterran atmosphere. Some great solos can be found on the album, executed by both the guitars and the 8-string bass.
My version of the EP has the 4 main tracks (Shaman, Ancient Pride, For the Light of my Darkness and Each Dawn I Die) as well as the bonus track "Spiritforms of the Psychomancer". I heard there's also a Iron Maiden cover on a version of this EP, but I wasn't able to get it yet. All four main tracks are very strong, but the most complex is definitely the title track. It features large amounts of keyboards, a great vocal mix (Magus' typical but great shriek and some very nice clean chanting) as well as acoustic guitars. The part after the acoustic break even sounds like a more sinister Viking-era Bathory.
The fifth track "Spiritforms of the Psychomancer" has some fantastic acoustics but isn't as strong as the rest overall. Well, for a bonus track, it's still pretty damn good.
The whole EP manages to combine sinister Greek Black Metal with some folky parts similar to Satyricon's "Dark Medieval Times" and Viking-era bathory "epic-ness". An awesome mix of emotions, all combined in 27 minutes.
I recommend this to all fans of Black Metal, especially to those who are as fond of the Greek scene as I am.
Highlights: All, especially "Ancient Pride"