In the careers of most great bands, there comes an album where all of the cylinders fall into place. For LA’s prog-adelic doomsters Ancestors, it seems to have taken about six years. Their initial works showed great promise, longevity, and substantial depth, but still left the impression that there were larger peaks over the horizon. Last year’s Invisible White EP started the payoff with a light/dark mix of exquisite softer prog and a hulking title track. But it is full length number three, In Dreams And Time, which formally announces their ascension to a higher echelon of artistic achievement. Everything within their combination of post/sludge metal, lumbering doom, and 70s-styled prog (complete with plenty of organ, synth, and piano), has taken a giant leap. The band has furthered their already deep understanding of compositional structure and gained greater expertise at pulling from various influences, but it is their ability to elicit a multitude of emotional responses that most firmly reveals this album’s worth.
With the deceptively-titled opener “Whispers,” Ancestors waste little time in revealing exactly how much sonic and emotional heft they have packed into In Dreams And Time. Vocals drenched in desperation fly over an Isis-like vibe before the song ups the intensity with huge levels of riffs (nice “rubber band” twist on one) and expert song development. It is like some great journey or struggle, but only a singular part of the greater journey that Ancestors have constructed. In fact, holistic vision in mind, the band saw fit to change it up completely with just the second song. “The Last Return” is a gorgeous arrangement of chamber piano, female vocals, and fuzzy guitar that gives the listener the deep breath that they weren’t even aware they needed, preparing them for further, even deeper plunges into Ancestors’ heartfelt, crushing world.
A couple tracks later is one of the deepest of these plunges, the methodic yet strangely indulgent “On The Wind.” The band’s doom is adapted through an ambiguity in the mood, achieved through shifts in multi-instrumental chord shapes. Multiple vocal parts are layered and woven to add yet more moving parts to the puzzle. And the organ is utilized in a way to ensure that this is far more than standard doom (or standard anything). But then there’s the prog freakout… Phrase by phrase, a lone lead guitar line evolves into a monster solo that flies over a less boisterous organ feature, and all the while the rest of the band adds every possible drum detail or bass note to create utter aural bliss. It’s a skip-back-and-listen-again section if I’ve ever heard one.
However, if “On The Wind” seems like aural bliss while it is playing, and if it feels like the deepest plunge this album could possibly take, it is not. The nearly 20-minute closer “First Light” is shear brilliance, and most likely the best song this obsessive fan of all things audio has laid ears on yet in this year. The first act of this epic-to-end-an-epic has a sort of alt-doom vibe, eventually decelerating into atmospheric minimalism of keys and bass, only to make the most gradual of gradual dynamic ascensions over the next several minutes. A simple but powerful vocal melody begins to give shape to the song’s path, aided by some very effect holiness in the organ execution and even more minimal lead guitar. Each time the song returns to this vocal passage it becomes something greater, growing and growing until it seems like it should be buckling under the weight of its own emotion until at last it bursts into a towering apex of sound.
This long sequence sums up much of In Dreams And Time, in that it is simultaneously fragile and steadfast, chameleon-like in its moods and styles, and nearly impossible to resist. And yet it might be the song’s coda that really shows us where Ancestors have taken their career. After this towering apex of sound had seemingly taken the song to its natural conclusion (on which most bands would have ended this album and shown no fault in doing so), the song suddenly and unexpectedly returns to the lighter mood of its opening act, only to quickly introduce a string-fueled hybrid of the two main sections. It is easily the deepest and most overwhelming plunge of all, and a courageous move that pays endless dividends for the song and album alike.
Ancestors have advanced every fact of their craft, but it is in becoming profoundly fearless they have truly come of age. In Dreams And Time is a sprawling odyssey with varying and unforgettable stops, and one that elevates the stature of an already great band to that of an elite one. Masterful.