Ancient Wisdom’s lengthy layoff finally ends, storming back with ‘A Celebration in Honor of Death’

The black metal world of 2004 is like a ompletely different planet from the one we live in today where the boundaries have been stretched, mostly for the better, and possibilities are completely endless. So much has been added to black metal’s DNA in the last 17 years that it’s hard to really unravel in a single opening, and jumping back in after a long stretch has to be somewhat strange.

So, it’s been 17 years since we heard from long-running Swedish black metal band Ancient Wisdom, the project helmed by Marcus E. Norman (who also goes by Vargher). That was 2004’s “Cometh Doom, Cometh Death,” but now we’re graced with his dark arts again on “A Celebration in Honor of Death,” the project’s new seven-track record. Jumping back in with Ancient Wisdom almost seems like a seamless effort for Vargher, as the music sounds timeless, strange, and explorative, an album that doesn’t feed on current trends but also refuses to dine on the past. Then again, it’s not like Norman has been in a cave as he’s been playing with Naglfar and Bewitched, but even those bands don’t feel like they rub off on this new record all that much, making this album stand apart.

“Haec Est Mors Secunda” starts with guitars opening, bells chiming, and chants reverberating. Melodies scorch, chants rise, and then we’re on to “Breaking the Circle of Life” that explodes and trudges its way into chaos. Shouted growls and strange melodies unite as things creep toward calculated highs and the title being wailed as the music then trickles, and the keys bubble. Things gets vicious again as the riffs cut through, keys drip like icicles, and the chorus rushes back before the synth sweeps out. “Architect Of Death – Laudamus Te” opens with chants pushing through, dramatic flushes quaking the ground, and snarled vocals ripping through Vargher’s teeth. The track keeps racing toward the mud as keys drizzle, fantastical playing gets into your blood, and everything comes to a sweeping end.

“The Coronation” blasts out and heads into symphonic spread, and then the playing gets your anxiety going, crushing with mangling howls. The vocals carve pathways as the strings hit their stride, the vocals punch, and then we’re back into calm. The keys open, the vocals splatter, and that ends in a wave of emotion. “Those Who Do Not Exist” hits an ominous tone as it starts with guitars hanging in the air, and the passion dripping into the atmosphere. The claws dig into that and enrich the air while a note of regality peaks, and the instrumental cut ends with your heart quivering. “And God Saw” unleashes keys that rush into streams, and a pummeling force comes out of it, as Vargher’s forceful howls gnaw at you. The playing crumbles and rolls downhill, sorrowful leads gut you, and a gothy push thickens the shadows and the darkness that are stirring like a storm. “Towards Your Destruction” ends the record and unleashes spindly riffs and growls that sound like they’re ranting as the momentum picks up. “Every act of mine is an act towards your destruction,” Vargher howls repeatedly, making sure you grasp the gravity, while organs rise and create a huge fog. The chorus returns, the playing get meatier, and synth waves bounce as the track fades away.

A 17-year gap is an eternity to wait between records, and it was starting to become a mystery if we’d ever hear from Ancient Wisdom ever again, but luckily that’s no longer an issue with “A Celebration in Honor and Death.” This record is an exhilarating gust from this long-running back metal project, and this album comes in sounding fresh and exciting in a sub-genre that’s comically oversaturated. This band is coming back at a welcomed time, and this record is an enthralling experience from front to back.

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