Progressive rock’s achilles heel has always been in artists’ inability to draw the line between enough and too much. The catch, however, is that it’s an entirely subjective borderline. For those who’ve undertaken marathon Opeth listening sessions or memorized every note of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, the idea of excess likely doesn’t even factor in evaluating its worth. For those who’d never touch a Yes album, about one side of vinyl is probably sufficient. On its own merits, though, the thrill inherent to progressive rock’s greatest peaks is in finding that line, dancing right up to its edge and maintaining that intense embrace of excess without allowing it to stumble and collapse into outright overkill. It’s in the epic expanse of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” the insane instrumental exercises of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” or “The Last Baron,” the titanic closing track to Mastodon’s Crack the Skye.
Anciients, who skew much closer to the final of those three examples, have proven themselves strongly in favor of a “more is more” approach. Just as a starting point, there are clearly too many letters in their name, a stylistic choice that’s certainly forgivable but emblematic in small part of their tendency to build toward something bigger. Their debut album Heart of Oak occasionally found itself warranting an edit, though what separates the band from prog-metal’s most overblown is their consistently strong aesthetic. Structurally, their songs are progressive, but stylistically they share more in common with the psychedelic sludge of Baroness or Mastodon than the enough-is-too-much high-concept creations of a band like Dream Theater.
The band’s second album, Voice of the Void, improves on the promise of their debut album by making few of its sprawling 66 minutes feel unearned. Many of them come in substantial chunks; the album’s second track, “Buried in Sand,” is its longest, thereby giving the listener precious little time to get comfortable before the epic excursions begin. But so much of what happens is intriguing, interesting, even downright thrilling, that their choices here aren’t at all drawbacks. That being said, its early moments of bombast and pomp, however successful, are a gateway to even stronger moments to come, be it on the suspenseful build-up of standout track “Worshipper,” the Iron Maiden-like riff cascades of “Ibex Eye” or the hallucinatory swirl of “My Home, My Gallows.” The deeper one gets sucked into Anciients’ vortex, the greater the reward.
Anciients’ Voice of the Void is a lot to process simply in how much rich and complex material it presents. But it’s also never boring, and even at its most expansive, never feels like too much. Side by side with their towering structures of riffs are glorious hooks and a satisfyingly solid melodic core. There’s even a power ballad akin to a slightly noodlier take on Alice in Chains’ “Down in a Hole” in “Serpents,” and for that matter it’s comparably good. Were Anciients stuck on just one of the settings they display here, Voice of the Void wouldn’t be nearly as successful. Instead, it’s a versatile and diverse set of metal, making good on the promise of what it means to be progressive.