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Ancestors

In Dreams and Time

(Tee Pee; US: 9 Apr 2012; UK: 10 Apr 2012)

Ancestors are a Los Angeles, California five-piece whose reputation for striking sonic architecture is well established. Their blend of acid-soaked doom and hypnotic progressive and psychedelic rock is greatly admired by connoisseurs of intergalactic synth and mind-melting riffs. It’s no surprise to find that their third full-length, In Dreams and Time, is a masterwork—a cerebrally stimulating jaunt was always expected. But what is staggering is that, as Ancestors delve into psychotropic climbs and rocket to celestial heights, the resulting album is not just artistically dazzling, but emotionally nurturing as well.


Ancestors’ bombastic arrangements are swathed in analog warmth, where the inertia of Meddle-era Pink Floyd melodies, rich organ jams, and proto-metal à la Uriah Heep meet the multidimensional proclivities of post-metal. The band’s ambitious debut, 2008’s Neptune With Fire, was a sinsemilla-flavored odyssey built around a couplet of epic-length tracks. Those colossal riffs and panoramic vistas were further explored on 2009’s excellent Of Sound Mind. However, last year’s Invisible White EP cast aside the driving thrum in favor of more sedate terrain, its gossamer atmospherics, temperate guitar, and restrained percussion orbiting shimmery keyboard escapades.


In Dreams and Time ties together the band’s previous observations to create a captivating scene where Astra, Pink Floyd and King Crimson frolic in a field of blooming sunflowers (as Black Sabbath and Neurosis heap fuel upon the pasture and set it ablaze). The album is immense, offering a deluge of macrocosmic highs. A fittingly interstellar echo of synth launches proceedings on “Whispers”. Its doom-scape riffs convey an astronomic gaze, and as the sludgy galaxias-rock flames out on incendiary guitar courtesy Justin Maranga, you’re left to ponder that on its first nine minutes alone, the album has eclipsed expectations.


The Moog, synth, organ and keyboard work of Jason Watkins and Matt Barks enriches the entire album with cosmological promise—underscoring every song’s gloriously vintage feel. But the album addresses more introspective concerns via its sun-bleached scenery and thundering cascades of riffs, which delve into the depths of one’s pneuma. The delicate female vocals and piano-based chamber doom of “The Last Return” are seared with a distortive guitar, tainting the beauty with drone and grit. A superb illustration of Ancestors’ ability to take that which is serene and reflective and weave in the extra animus to craft something altogether mesmerizing.


That sense of hypnotic gravity is intensified on “Corryvreckan”. At 12-minutes-plus, its ominous organ grind is set initially against a mountainous guitar-line. The fluid bass and percussion of Nick Long and Daniel Pouliot, respectively, bolsters the portentous slow-build. The intertwining instrumentation and vocals reach tipping point, and the inevitable crescendo explodes in a fuzz-ridden riot—fusing the sublime and the stirring into a perfectly progressive epic, transforming the colossal and limitless into the tangible and intimate.


The six tracks that make up In Dreams and Time are slathered in the sonorous timbre of classic ‘70’s rock, but the sustained keyboard ambience and mightier metal permeations shift the andante rhythms to the inspired (and beyond, to the cathartic). “On the Wind” flawlessly represents such deftness. Again, the piano offers a pause before the storm, laying the groundwork for the escalating tempo. The band’s three vocalists interlace to sculpt a teetering emotional edifice, before a phenomenal solo ascends over a rich organ freak-out, triggering a wanton display of cacophonous prog and amp-charring insanity. Easily one of the best finales to a track I’ve heard in my many years of prog fandom.


After crafting such grandiose, transformative suites as “On the Wind” and “Corryvreckan”, you’d be excused for thinking that Ancestors might have already showcased all of their orchestrated mastery. However, the album has another mammoth prog psalm in store with the 20 minutes of “First Light”, where diminuendo passages give way to sforzato (and vice versa) as delicate phrasing and dynamic shifts in tone unfold and compress., Working its way towards its zenith, the song evolves organically, with every note adding another stratum till the kaleidoscopic bliss of its summit is finally reached—and Ancestors unite all elements in a rapturous swell of strings. 


Ancestors mix a heads-down stoner vibe with head-nodding metal and the head-shaking off-kilter harmonics of psychedelic rock. The band are indebted to their forbears—which they obviously acknowledge in In Dreams and Time‘s Hipgnosis-like cover art. Like all genuinely imaginative and transcendent music, In Dreams and Time connects with that eternal desire to be nourished by fertile creativity—and Ancestors have served up an exquisite banquet in that regard. Three albums in and Ancestors have produced a tour de force bursting with vitality and songwriting genius. If that all sounds like hyperbole, so be it—albums of such extraordinary scope deserve rhapsodic adoration.

Rating:

Craig Hayes is based in Aotearoa New Zealand, and he is a contributing editor and columnist at PopMatters. Alongside his reviews and feature articles, Craig's monthly column, Ragnarök, traverses the metal spectrum. He is the co-author of PopMatters' regular metal round-up, Mixtarum Metallum, contributes to radio shows and numerous other sites, and he favours music that clangs, bangs, crashes, or drones. Craig can be found losing followers daily on twitter @sixnoises.


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