At its best, atmospheric black metal can be the most soul-searing and life-affirming genre within extreme metal’s vast repertoire. When the combination of furious drumming, whirring guitars, and inhuman vocals hits just right, it can be a genuinely transformative experience, full of catharsis and power. Ancestral Cult by Arde is a record that reminds you of just how thrilling the style can be, coming close to the intensity put across by the best bands of the genre today. As with so many other bands of this genre, how the music is presented is key to putting the listener in the right frame of mind to hear its message, and the antifascist, feminist framing of Ancestral Cult certainly helps with that, giving it a different feel when compared to most other bands in the style, and helping Arde to stand out that bit more.
The core template that makes up most of Ancestral Cult is, by now, well established – there’s lots of Wolves in the Throne Room in here, along with the harder edge at points that recalls Dödsrit or the first Wode album. From that description there’s a good chance you know what to expect from Ancestral Cult, and on the whole you’re right. There are hypnotic passages where the fury of the riffs and drums reaches that odd point of becoming almost ambient in its hyper-speed repetition; tremolo-picked melodies that add melancholy and yearning; vocals that are at once pleading and authoritative. It’s a well-worn formula, for the simple reason that it’s good and effective – very much a case of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Arde clearly have a mastery of the fundamentals of this subgenre, and Ancestral Cult, when embraced in the right frame of mind and environment (ideally alone and in darkness, whether that be in a meditative state in your room or a moonlit walk through nearby forests), can be one of the most powerful things you’re likely to hear this year.
There are moments of divergence from the atmospheric black metal template – most notably acoustic interlude track ‘Síle’, by Amelia Baker from Cinder Well. Otherwise, Ancestral Cult feels like a tour-de-force of what atmospheric black metal can be and do. There are moments of life-affirming, eye-widening catharsis within Ancestral Cult, whilst at others it is contemplative and hypnotic. Whilst it may not reinvent the atmospheric black metal template, that’s not what Ancestral Cult is setting out to do. Instead, it puts a slightly different spin on the core tenets of the genre by framing it in a different manner to the expected focus on nature and an idealised past that atmospheric black metal (and black metal in general) can often lapse into. As such, Ancestral Cult demonstrates that Arde have something more to say than most bands playing in the style today, and it’ll be exciting to see what they offer up next.
Ancestral Cult is out on October 28th via Wolves of Hades/Alerta Antifascista (tape and vinyl) and Darkwoods (CD). Copies can be ordered here.
Words: Stuart Wain