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Ancient Rites - Laguz


by Matt Hensch

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I think Ancient Rites has found itself trapped within the strange void of legendary, trailblazing bands that are somehow unrecognized. Ancient Rites is a phenomenal group, responsible for creating outstanding opuses of both black metal and symphonic-loaded folk stuff, although rudimentary terms hardly scratch the mystery hiding beneath the surface. Following a nine-year lull in which Ancient Rites' activity was uncertain comes "Laguz," and while one might have validity questioning whether or not honoring the fallen through hymns of war might have lost its magic by now, it is made clear as day from the start that little in the Ancient Rites camp has been abandoned. "Laguz" seems to have no issues carrying the organic nuances that made this Belgium faction so endearing.

What "Laguz" does better than anything is represent the Ancient Rites tribe in a comprehensive scope of the group's many traits and characteristics. The album is heavy on symphonic arrangements and folk influences circulating vigorously through the pumping heart of black metal. Carrying such a wide style of attack often clogs up an instrumental front, but Ancient Rites is able to find a compelling balance between all. The tremolo-picked riffs and blast beats, both ample in count throughout, serve to bolster the detailed orchestral movements stirring up above the battleground. This is an essential factor to consider given the sequences could have survived and created a substantial album had the symphonic arrangements been scrapped; they don't carry the weight of the music, but add atmosphere and emotion.

"Laguz" is an anomaly in this regard, especially during a time when bands like Wintersun and Septicflesh (or Septic Flesh, or whatever) shoehorn in as much symphonic stuff as possible for no appropriate reason. But "Laguz" also boasts incredible melodies and poignant solos penetrating the conflict of sensations already boiling up from what Ancient Rites creates here. There is a vital balance between the many faces of the band shining through and swapping out, though the transformations are done with subtlety and grace. The panorama is further enriched by Gunther Theys' incredible vocals, which are more narrative and spoken than the type of shrieks or growls often found in this niche.

The only thing holding back "Laguz" is the production, which is too synthetic and too digital-sounding to give the record the true sound it deserves. But looking at the songwriting and the natural integrating of symphonic elements into its black/folk metal system without creating a lazy terrain makes the affair meaningful, and worthy of the Ancient Rites banner. As expected, Ancient Rites has done little wrong, and what a scene it is to see them dust off the cobwebs and come soaring back to life.

Ancient Rites - Laguz
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