Review: VolcandraThe Way of Ancients

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2024 continues strong.

After Volcandra’s 2022 EP Border World, which delivered grade-A melodic black metal with a thrashy edge, I was pretty hyped for the newest effort from the Kentucky quintet, all the more so when they declared that they were going for a more aggressive approach with The Way of Ancients.

Sure enough, lead single “Fouled Sanctity” highlights those thrash inclinations throughout the verses before exploding into a fantastically melodic chorus:

“Fantastic” is doubly apt here; in case the video’s protagonists Vape Knight and Skelly Mage didn’t give it away, the album’s overarching concept puts us firmly back in the realm of fantasy after Border World seemed to take a brief detour through science fiction. And in case the knight shoving that crystal into his forehead seemed somehow familiar, yes, the story is inspired by Diablo, amongst other things. Nerdy metal that goes for the windpipe instead of the flute? I’m always down for that.

Still, Ancients and I initially got off on the wrong foot. While opening in a similar way as the EP, with a lone guitar sweeping towards us across a wide-open plane, “Birth of the Nephalem” goes for a more moody, pensive atmosphere akin to atmospheric black metal. There’re still plenty of fast parts, and I wouldn’t exactly call the song meek, but overall, it doesn’t quite pounce like “Tallon IV” did. I’ve since warmed up to it, but at the time, it just wasn’t what I wanted to hear, and I still think the album doesn’t put its best foot forward here.

After “Fouled Sanctity” does a lot to right the ship, the band takes that energy to a darker place in “Nemesis Confession,” where the speed is largely upheld outside of the slower, yet no less aggressive chorus. The momentum carries into the beginning of “Maiden of Anguish” before sadly petering out. Again, not exactly bad, but it also doesn’t do anything to stand out and spends a bit too much time meandering through its mid-tempo sections.

2 out of 4 so far. Not a particularly great hit rate. Luckily, “Seven Tombs” marks the onset of a 3-song stretch that simply wipes the floor with most of the album’s first half. It’s another rager that goes even further in putting the thrash influence front and center, eschewing a melodic chorus in favor of one peppered with gang shouts. “The Blackened Temple” is every bit as brutal, but finds a way to bring some melody back, and while I’m not as fond of its central lead, the more laid-back bridge section makes up for that with a beautiful solo.

Lastly, “Not Even Death” sees a full-fledged return of the triumphant and incredibly catchy kind of melody that already closed out Border World. The tempo is varied, the lead guitar is insane, and the chorus is bound to get stuck in your head for days. To top it all off, the song closes with an acoustic guitar part over a blast beat, a combination that absolutely slaps. It’s an indisputable highlight of the album, and I think it would have made for a great closer.

However, we still have about 8 minutes to go, and they’re all taken up by the title track. With a martial pace that gives me viking metal vibes, I get the feeling that the intention here was to close with a sense of grandeur. This sadly falls flat as the song spends too much time marching in place, and its attempts to branch out with some more acoustic guitar in the bridge and a brief outburst of blasts feel a bit “too little, too late.” Odd, since for an example of a good mid-tempo song leading to a great finale, we have to look no further than Volcandra’s own “Colossi” from—you guessed it —the EP.

Yes, Border World came up a lot in this review. As it happens, my entry point to the band set a pretty high bar. This means that the couple of places where The Way of Ancients falls short of clearing it are still far from total failure. Still, if you’re coming from the same place as me, you might find your patience tested here and there. If you already loved the debut though, I think you’ll find less fault than me with this stronger, more focused version of the band.

4/5 Toilets ov Hell

The Way of Ancients releases March 1 via Prosthetic Records. Get it here.

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