With last year?s demo-turned-LP Neptune with Fire, California epic rockers Ancestors immediately positioned themselves in the upper echelon of contemporary stoner metal. Their deceptively intricate jams and massive sonic scope made Neptune with Fire one of 2008?s most satisfying listens, and following it up a year later with their second Tee Pee Records release, Of Sound Mind, the L.A. five-piece continues to show remarkable promise and a strong sense of diversity in their sound.
The central distinguishing factor between Neptune with Fire and Of Sound Mind is the production, which took a more straightforward, definitively stoner bent with the former and now presents rich layers of guitar, bass and organ across four grandiose tracks all over 13 minutes of ?70s-influenced prog metal spliced with shorter instrumental pieces to allow breathing room. One could call ?Not the Last Return,? ?Friend? and ?Challenging? interludes — certainly opener ?From Nothing? is little more than the equivalent of a conductor tapping his wand on the music stand before the orchestra begin — but their richness isn?t to be understated. The subtle development of ?Challenging? in particular, as it grows from its piano beginnings to include acoustic guitar and bass, is one of the highlights of the album and a true demonstration of the growth Ancestors have undergone in the year since their last release.
J. Christopher Watkins? organ features more heavily throughout the four longer cuts than it did on Neptune with Fire, adding texture to Justin Maranga?s first guitar solo on ?Bounty of Age? and revealing itself to be as integral to the Ancestors sound as any other instrument, particularly toward the end of closer ?The Ambrose Law,? where bassist Nick Long donates impressive runs under another guitar solo which Watkins makes complete. The tone of Maranga?s guitar has changed somewhat, losing some of its fuzz, but the riff that commences a doomier movement in ?Bounty of Age? is no less engaging than it otherwise might be. The beginning of ?Mother Animal? and later moments of ?The Trial? (ready Kafka?) rock like an upbeat stoNeurosis, but though Ancestors incorporate elements of modern post-metal, their approach is encompassing enough that it blends with the rest of their influences in a way that avoids becoming an Isis-style clich?. Guest spots from cellist Ramiro Zapata, David Scott Stone and Black Math Horseman?s Sera Timms only further the stylistic reach.
Lush with the noise contributions of Chico Foley and still grounded by the creative drumming of Brandon Pierce, Ancestors demonstrate a second time the vitality and potential of this genre to move forward without being entirely beholden to Kyuss riffs or Sleep?s Holy Mountain. Hell, ?The Ambrose Law? pushes Hawkwind and Captain Beyond subspace into multi-vocal doom chaos with a deft and easy hand, making it flow and work so seamlessly as to sound natural. Of Sound Mind could become a landmark for Ancestors, but I have the feeling the band is just getting started developing their sound, and the upped prog elements that appear throughout here are only the beginning of a (hopefully) long evolutionary process. Where these explorations will lead is anyone?s guess, but in 2009 Ancestors prove one of the most necessary and creative bands to wrench themselves from the stoner morass.Ancestors, California, Los Angeles, Tee Pee