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This is one of the few technical death albums which wreaks of utmost brilliance, sincerity and ingenuity from almost every perspective. Rarely, if ever, do I actually come across an entire technical album which has genuine songwriting and innovative capacity without falling into tedious and exhaustive showmanship. "Scepter of The Ancients" is perhaps one of the most unique albums I have ever heard in my 10+ years listening to death metal. They have never actually been able to write another album even closely innovative and brilliant as this, which is no surprise - these guys peaked kind of early.
The most outstanding attribute of this album are the vocals, perhaps one of the most widely talked about and unique singing you'll hear. More or less, Chalky incorporates an array of different elements into his singing, everything from coarse, screams to brutish grunts. Not to mention, he changes his voice which such frequency it complements the hectic, insanely difficult aspects of the guitar. Unfortunately, for some bizarre reason, Chalky departed the band after this record, and the band haven't released anything as remotely unique ever since, mainly because their current vocalist is well, some mediocre douche bag.
However, the thing that makes this album most unique is how the music accommodates the singing. The guitar work, although lacking in solos, has some of the most technical riffing you'll ever hear on a death metal record. Haley is full of some of the weirdest palm mute picking, a lot of hybrid picking and a lot of exceptional legato. I was always under the assumption that the rhythm guitar can only be so technical before it disintegrates into random noise, but with the write production, technique and musicianship, Psycroptic make it work beautifully. Another assumption I always had is quite simple, almost algorithmic: If a death metal band has no solos, they are fucking trash because rhythm can never be that interesting. I was very wrong.
It is true that not all the riffs are catchy, and you have about 10 - 15 riffs per track, some of which are played once for a dozen seconds before Haley starts playing something else - but there is a point to be made. In modern death metal, the goal is to put in as many riffs as possible to make it as psychotic as possible, but too often bands have lost the plot of writing actual music. Psycroptic however know how to link their riffs up elegantly, and the transitions they make, collectively, means that it never sounds like the music is incomprehensible or worse still, unmusical. On the contrary, Haley's unbelievably dextrous playing serves a template which accommodates the drums and vocals. There are a few memorable riffs here, including "Lacertine Forest", "Cruelty Incarnate", "The Colour of Sleep" and "Skin Coffin" are unbelievably catchy at some points, but if you're for a band with catchy riffs, you're much better off listening to another band.
Additionally, the drumming is profoundly good here, and it helps that Dave is Joe's brother, because their complementarity is unbelievably good. Besides being some of the best recording you'll hear on a death metal album (the double bass sounds like a bass drum and not some triggered nonsense), it is extremely refined. Dave is a remarkably good death metal drummer, and his drumming fits the band perfectly; its fast, a lot of blast beats and some creative grooves here and there - he never drowns the band like many other top death metal drummers manage to do on an annual basis, but goes with it, never surfacing until absolutely necessary.
The only negative this album has is that the bass is almost nonexistent, the drums, vocals and guitars make it almost impossible to hear any bass playing whatsoever. Yes, conventionally this was never a prerequisite for a class album, but if you're trying to make the perfect album it is imperative that all the musicians are represented at least somewhat equally. This in my opinion was the only drawback on this insanely unique album.
So in summary, this is a band which used to release some of the best death metal on the planet - they're by no means a bad band now, but just nothing too unique. "The Sceptor of The Ancients" is one of the best death metal albums in history simply because it is the perfect mix of raw insanity and refined musicianship that is very difficult to find in any modern death metal band. Anyone who wants to listen to something truly unique and interesting is very much obliged to check this album out, its their best and they'll never release anything like it again.