JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES
'Jess And The Ancient Ones'
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, you’ll have come across at some point at least one of the many decidedly retro acts who would rather revisit a time when rock music wasn’t an overproduced shambles and artists in the relative ‘mainstream’ were dabbling in the occult for the very first time. Such acts I’m talking about are the likes of Coven, Black Widow and Jacula whose progressive rock and overtly satanic sermons gained them all significant cult followings and laid the foundations for many other acts who would follow suit. One such act is the Finnish septet (yes seven of them!) Jess And The Ancient Ones who have not one, not two but three guitarists of which believe it or not one who just happens to be Antti Boman, guitarist for none other than Finnish death metal legends Demilich. To say this is a big gulf in style from Demilich is an understatement.
Comparisons with the likes of Jex Thoth and The Devil's Blood are going to be inevitable, generally due to the fact Jess also like the two aforementioned have a fantastic frontwoman at the helm; though where Jex Thoth are more focused around all things doomy and Sabbath-esque and The Devil's Blood prefer dropping acid to riffs, Jess have a substantial and rather eloquent and catchy 70s prog rock and even pop slant and are considerably more accessible than the others. Recorded in the infamous Necromorbus Studios which has a stellar reputation and past roster of releases, 'Jess and the Ancient Ones' could not sound more impeccable, encapsulating everything great about this style of music with its fuzzy, analogue sound which is a welcome throwback to a time when music production wasn’t just a pro-tools plagued loudness war. For a slightly more accurate representation of their sound, take the occult blasphemies of genre progenitors Coven and add the guitar genius of psych lunatic Roky Erickson together with the rhythm and drive of Iron Maiden and finish it off with the fuzzy psych pop of The Shocking Blue. If that isn’t a dream amalgamation of musical styles then I don’t know what is.
In case you haven’t already guessed, it’s probably quite obvious I like this album, in fact I liked it so much the day I heard the promo I bought the vinyl version straight away, so make of that what you will. Anyway, onto the actual music itself, the sheer amount of bass driven groove on this album is obscene, right from the outset with opener "Prayer for Death and Fire" your assaulted by a barrage of absolutely fantastic bass licks, Jake’s eerie organ work and a web of interweaving guitar duels certainly to some degree influenced by the classic Smith/Murray partnership but more rooted in 60s and 70s psych. Just hearing Jess’ smokey and sulphurous vocals wailing “Hear my prayer for death and fire/ Love, lust and desire” is enough to draw you into their damp dark dungeon of starlit curiosities and induce you into that vociferous satanic ritual which Jess commands and delivers with an astute conviction. Technically, no they aren’t the best I’ve ever heard, but the sheer amount of passion and desire burning within suits this music so fucking well.
"Twilight Witchcraft" is a lot less direct, much more of a slow burner but no less impressive than the last, continuing with the captivating vocal performances, rumbling bass and fuzzy guitar riffs and is catchy enough I found myself singing along to it more than a few times."‘Sulfur Giants (Red King)" continues with a slow brooding, piano driven intro before descending into an almost anthemic epic, a devastatingly rapturous journey through the self, the astral and the arcane consummated by those transcendent vocals. Mid way it dies down again before exploding into a behemoth of galloping bass and blistering solos with those previously mentioned pop sensibilities; sublime doesn’t even come close. "Ghost Riders" again tones it down a touch, but turns the bass up to eleven for what is probably the grooviest song here. Its one-two restrained and sullen swagger is provocative yet again outstandingly infectious; if these guys have written a bad tune then I have yet to hear it.
CD Bonus (which unfortunately us vinyl nerds don’t get), "13th Breath of the Zodiac" is up next, and is a little polished up from the single, this time containing dual vocal harmonies on the chorus with Thomas and follows more in the direct suit of the opener in its punchy rhythm and snaking guitar work. "Devil in G Minor" is the anomaly of the release, foregoing all things noisy and rock opting for what can only be described as a supremely noir, jazzy number with a piano melody which crashes over you like a cascade of fire while the superb organic vocals of Jess again set off every corner of it. There’s not much to say about "Come Crimson Death" that I haven’t said about any of the others previously, again beautiful in its execution another twelve minute epic which builds up to a crescendo of Deep Purple-esque organs and guitar genius.
So, in case you didn’t know, I liked this album, so much so it’s my favourite album so far this year. For every bit of press they’ll get due to having a female front and as impressive as she is, it’s every bit about the marriage of the fantastic abilities of the guitar trio as well and mesmerizing basslines as well as Jess’ straddling vocals that emblazon the music like an exalted spirit. Fans of the genre will love this, for me it’s the best album this vintage 70s timewarp has produced yet; maybe not as ambiguous as The Devil's Blood but it far outstrips anything they’ve done so far, and I adored their last album. Your move then Selim...