Review: Ancient VVisdom – Master Of The Stone
It’s interesting that Ancient VVisdom emerged from under the wing of Integrity, that from the aesthetic and ideological influence of Holy Terror and The Process Church we ultimately see the emergence of something more recognizable in the realm of extreme music—a broader, theistic satanism in place of the more esoteric God/Jesus/Satan/Lucifer dynamic of the Process Church. The disparate path taken by Ancient VVisdom—specifically Integrity alumni Nathan Opposition and Michael Jochum—was musical as well as aesthetic.
Though the first two Ancient VVisdom albums were primarily comprised of acoustic rock and neofolk, on Sacrifice the band began introducing elements of what would define their later material: tracks which were much more in step with conventional hard rock stylings, paired alongside warmly-produced doom metal. Their 4th record, 33, seemed to be a harsh counter to this, much more subdued and slower-paced, with a tentative return to the dark contemporary folk sounds of earlier records. Follow-up Mundus was their heaviest up to that point, itself far more bluesy than their past material—an album that was maybe their most accessible yet, but conversely their least consistently catchy.
On Master Of The Stone, Ancient VVisdom are now more entrenched in that particular combination of doom and psych rock that’s emerged in the past decade. A sound that’s both modern and a pastiche, more similar to the sound of Bogwife and Jointhugger than it is to Hexvessel and Blood Ceremony.
Lead single and opening track “Sold My Soul To Satan” introduces the mid-paced, vintage hard rock sensibilities of Master Of The Stone, tempered further into the track with surprising (but welcome) guttural vocals. As an opener I’m in two minds about “Sold My Soul To Satan”; its sound, theming, even its title, are all perfectly indicative of the sound of the entire album, a neatly done summation of the entire tracklist. It’s that exact sound and that theming that I’m conflicted about, however. “Sold My Soul To Satan” cruises at a surprisingly leisurely pace, its instrumentation never threatening to derail or upend, executed with the mechanical precision of a four-to-the-floor beat in a DAW. It seems so incongruous with the album’s theming and aesthetics, not as deliberate juxtaposition but as an inherent side-effect of the sound Ancient VVisdom take influence from on Master Of The Stone.
“The Adversary” is interesting, a track that seems most structurally similar to tracks off A Godlike Inferno transposed to the heavier and doomier stylings of their new direction. Nathan’s vocals may alienate some, as they’re mostly delivered in the upper register and less forceful than others in the genre. To me, they’ve always lent a subtle melancholic roundness to the band’s instrumental edge, and “The Adversary” is perhaps the most immediate and impactful use of his vocals on the whole of Master Of The Stone. This is paired alongside incredibly catchy legato guitar riffs on what’s maybe the highlight of the record.
Despite a chugging, travelling guitar riff that introduces the song, “Apollyon” is most defined by its slower, reverbed passages that give the track an almost liturgical quality. The track becomes incredibly spacious in its closing half, like the mid-paced riffing of the introduction was subsumed into the vacuum of the mix, leaving only its faint echo behind. “World’s Demise” is a neofolk track with distinct, rattling percussion. It brings to mind the sort of forceful dark folk that Rot In Hell delved into on A Thick Rope And A Strong Branch. It’s a textured, muscular track that evokes the opposite side of “Apollyon”‘s liturgical bent, here evoking the eschatological. It’s tinged with melancholy, but ultimately has an air of acceptance about it. Thematically, both tracks are the highlight of the album.
“Ashes From On High” is initially a return to the mid-paced, more lethargic sound of the opener, and seems less essential as a result. It then, however, opens up with a more spacious mix and some soaring vocals that give the track an immense feeling of depth that a lot of the more conventional rock tracks on the album don’t. Title track “Master Of The Stone” is notable for its layered, soft-clean vocal dynamic and use of relatively clean, tremolo-picked lead guitar atop the thicker, coarser distortion of the low end. In doing so it establishes a juxtaposition unique in the tracklist, tapping into a subtle Dionysian-Apollonian dynamic that informs a lot of theistic satanic art, a dynamic which has typically seen Ancient VVisdom at their best. It’s why their most impactful music comes from their knife-edge balance of melody and harshness.
The slower build of “Demon Est Deus Inverses”—the longest track on the album—gives way to the sort of melodic, legato riffing of “The Adversary” before establishing a short acoustic break alongside subdued choral elements. “The Devil’s Sermon” finishes the record with more swing, a minimal acoustic piece that has more in common with mid-era King Dude than it does Of The Wand And The Moon.
Ancient VVisdom’s luciferian reverence is depicted here alongside their musical reverence, and it’s an album whose music feels so revivalist in nature that it seems to lack spark in places. That so much of their music deals with depictions of counter-balancing, of negation—outwardly apparent on tracks like The Opposition, The Adversary—is ironic, since Master Of The Stone feels at times like Ancient VVisdom operating alongside tradition, and not against it.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Master Of The Stone is out now on Argonauta Records.