Ancient Rites - Rubicon
Season Of Mist
Epic Extreme Metal
10 songs (45'56)
Release year: 2006
Ancient Rites, Season Of Mist
Reviewed by Crims
Album of the month

It seems like an eternity since Ancient Rites unleashed Dim Carcosa. Though I initially found it moderately enjoyable, Dim Carcosa eventually grew on me to the point of being one of my favorites CD’s; and something I still listen to on a regular basis. Though an excellent live CD/DVD was released a few years back I’ve been craving new material from Ancient Rites for quite some time. To say I had high expectations would be correct. Ancient Rites seem to evolve with every release: originally starting as more of a traditional Black Metal outfit, and slowly growing into an epic combination of Black, Power, and Viking/Folk Metal, Ancient Rites had me a little worried. Would they continue to evolve to the point of differentiating itself from the Dim Carcosa sound too much?

Rubicon starts out with an intro called Crusade. The original intro, The Return, from Dim Carcosa was excellent. Though Crusade isn’t as good it rewards the listener with a short lived, but effective refrain from The Return on top of middle-eastern influences. Middle-eastern sounds is something we didn’t hear in Dim Carcosa and is a common element throughout the CD as many songs deal with European history involving wars with Persian armies; so it only makes sense. This time there are no songs about Vikings and this further reflects a slight change in the keyboard melodies and folk elements. The majority of the lyrical focus involves wars ranging from World War 1 (Ypres) to a battle between Germanic armies that decimated multiple Roman legions in the song Cheruscan. Other lyrical highlights include the song Invictus which uses the original poem by William Ernest Henley as a basis for all the lyrics aside from a couple of gang chants of “Invictus” thrown in for good measure. But more on the lyrics later… what about the music!?!

After Crusade the first real song is a beast of middle-eastern riffing, epic synth, and fist-pumping energy. It’s called Templar and is possibly one of the best songs on the CD. It sets a great tone for the CD and introduces us to how Ancient Rights have evolved. I’ve already mentioned the change from Folk and Viking Metal keys to a more middle-eastern flavoured, epic battle synth (think Bal-Sagoth). On top of that is a change vocally. Gone are the Black Metal raspy styling of Gunther Theys and its place is a deeper, more sinister style that is half-Death Metal, half-spoken word. Originally I was a little skeptical of this but it did grow on me after the 2nd listen. It does work well and sometimes becomes more raspy, but part of me does miss the old style. The clean vocals are used perhaps slightly more and sound mostly the same. For those who don’t know Theys has a very unique clean style that I can’t even really describe and is better heard. To emphasize the clean vocals more this time around the band has incorporated more back-up gang vocals to accentuate vocal lines (mostly choruses but also some verses). This is done with both the clean and harsher style. Do not think this is HammerFall style sing-along gang vocals. It’s more like group chants from an army before they go into battle. Though most choruses are simple (usually just one or two words, with few songs being exceptions) they are made very effective by intricate verses and extra-epic everything musically behind the choruses.

Guitar-wise the styles ranged from the bands traditional Black Metal roots to slightly more melodic Power Metal riffs. Middle-eastern riffs and leads are sprinkled throughout the CD as well to compliment the keys and sporadic but effective traditional melodic leads make regular appearances. This time around there is also more power-chord triplet chugging which is milked for maximum head banging. I would say overall the music is more melodic than has been in the past but for some reason the music also seems more aggressive. This is due in part to regular but short-lived blast beats in many songs along with fast double bass and galloping rhythms. All tempos are switched often, normally going from fast to even faster, but the band, as they have always done, have incorporated some quiet, atmospheric breaks. These breaks are a nice change of pace from the aggressiveness of the rest of the music and usually have a nice build-up back to the Metal which makes them all the more effective.

One thing that prevented me from getting into Dim Carcosa right away was an overly electronic drum sound. This was perhaps due to drum triggers used in the studio which did a poor job of sounding like a natural drum sound; but it provided an unnecessary contrast to the traditional and folk elements of the band. Though the actual drumming was excellent it took me awhile to get over the sound of the drums. Eventually I got used to it but for those of you who never really got over it the drum sound it is back to normal. It blends in nicely with the rest of the music and doesn’t have the overtly electronic sound of Dim Carcosa. This allows the music to give the listener a strong sense of cohesion with all musical elements working together to create an epic and triumphant sound… without any one instrument, even vocally, taking center stage over something else.

Rubicon sees the band continuing the tradition of lyrics based on European history but also furthering itself away from their Black Metal roots. Sure enough there are still Black Metal riffs and Black Metal drumming, but it’s toned down from Dim Carcosa. Ancient Rites seem to be leaning more towards an extreme-epic form of Metal that is perhaps similar to Bal-Sagoth in spirit, but different in overall execution (not as over-the-top, and a very different approach to the vocals to name a few things separating the two). I wouldn’t be surprised if in another 2 or 3 releases down the road the music is almost completely devoid of anything Black Metal. Either way, what we have right now is an excellent successor to Dim Carcosa which builds on that CD but retains enough of what made that release great. Now, if you completely disagree with me and think that Dim Carcosa sucked or wasn’t anything special, then you’ll probably disagree with me on this one as well. Otherwise I can say that it was worth the wait for this release from my perspective. The only downside I could find on repeated listens was a few repetitive rhythms found throughout the choruses of the middle of the track listing and that was about it. As it stands right now this stands as one of my top picks for this year so far and it continues to get better with each listen.

Killing Songs :
Templar, Mithras, Invictus, Ypres, Cheruscan, Brabantia
Crims quoted 92 / 100
Other albums by Ancient Rites that we have reviewed:
Ancient Rites - Laguz reviewed by Andy and quoted 90 / 100
Ancient Rites - Dim Carcosa reviewed by Khelek and quoted 90 / 100
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