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If only the production was as good as the songs! - 70%

RickySoWhat, October 2nd, 2013

Ancient Rites is one of those European black metal bands that has consistently put out good to great albums throughout their career. Sadly and quite understandably, they never managed to make it big like their Scandinavian counterparts such as for instance Emperor and Mayhem. They have remained somewhat of a hidden gem in the black metal scene, up to their semi-hiatus state of late.

With Dim Carcosa, Ancient Rites were two albums in their "international members" phase, with guitarists Erik Sprooten and Jan Yrlund respectively hailing from Holland and Finland joining them. Especially the multi-talented Jan Yrlund seems to be a very welcome creative addition to the band, being responsible for the melodic and harmonic additions to the sound of Ancient Rites.

The songwriting has improved even more since their previous album "Fatherland". Everything really fits and works, there are no loose ends to be found on this album. Even the intro and outro, which many bands often quickly steal from a budget recording of some long deceased classical composer, are carefully crafted pieces with a really unique atmosphere. The band successfully captures different moods throughout the album; from the blasting fury of "Exile (Les litanies de Satan)" through the majestic and dramatic heroism of "...and the Horns Called for War", the melancholy of "North Sea" and the nearly sadistic ode to the heathen viking avengers on "Lindisfarne (Anno 793)". Especially on the slower paced tracks, the keyboards really make the compositions shine, giving a particular identity to each song. The vocals greatly contribute to this sense of variation; the vocal delivery seamlessly goes from typical aggressive black metal screams to eerie whispering and clean vocals - including guest female vocals.

Special attention needs to be devoted to the amazing artwork done by guitarist and co-producer Jan Yrlund. The old manuscript style genuinely fits the lyrical narrative of bassist/vocalist Gunther Theys, effectively making this album a journey to times and places long forgotten.

After all this praise, there unfortunately are some negative remarks as well. What really puts me off, is the downright terrible production of this album. It seems that the band put so much time and effort in the actual songs that they simply lacked the energy to devote any attention whatsoever to sonic qualities. The guitar sound on "Dim Carcosa" is a very sad affair indeed: thin and brittle, lifeless and very digital sounding, with heavily scooped mids and perhaps even high and low pass filters that are set too crudely. The biggest disaster, however, are the drums. From the first couple of seconds of "Exile (Les Litanies De Satan)", one can already tell that these are not real drums. Everything simply screams "drum computer". Each snare hit is virtually identical, but it is the digital cymbals, hi-hat and ride that really spoil the whole sound. There are no dynamics; when the drums go into blast mode the ride cymbal sounds like an alarm clock frantically bouncing around. I can't imagine why on earth they would choose to program the drums with such a competent drummer in their ranks; perhaps to save on studio time?

If you can listen beyond the flawed production, this probably is the best Ancient Rites album. There are no filler songs, every track stands on its own, each set of lyrics tells an own story properly fitting the atmosphere of the song. If you value a good production, skip this one and go for "Rubicon".