By: Liz Levine
It’s not often that the classifiers “metal” and “hippie” come together in one place, unless, of course, one is thinking about jamming. But Brooklyn’s Ancient Sky manage to pay tribute to both genres within the space of a single song on their self-titled debut. The group reads like a lesson in what would happen if a classic rock band with undertones of modern metal were to write the soundtrack for a spaghetti western film, all the more so because these guys create such a heavy sense of mood. The infrequent uptempo moments are ripe with hard, angry guitar lines and crashy, frantic drums, but the disc mostly wallows in droopy cowboy wanderings and dusty, somber landscapes. The inclusion of an organ, played by Mike Ballard, as one of the quartet’s main instruments solidifies this saddened, heavy quality, its natural gloominess wailing away and reminding of church, life, death, and other such pleasant associations. Add to that Brian Markham’s deep, preachy vocals, and you’ve got yourself an old-timey group of proselytizers, who also bring on the jam and other elements of classic rock ‘n’ roll. Boiling it down, they could be called a much more funereal version of The Doors.
But that’s not all. Ancient Sky also have a confusing tendency to throw in spacey sounds from another world, as if suggesting there’s more to their earthly cowboy wanderings than meets the ear. Blips, bleeps, and spaceship sounds drip in randomly or punctuate the beginnings and endings of songs, pulling the listener out of the vision of the past that has been so carefully crafted and essentially shaking them by the shoulders. The tracks don’t tend to follow the verse/chorus/verse structure, instead leaving space for jamming and randomness, which are spots where Pat Broderick’s standout drumming really shows. But moments like these soon quiet back down to the somber core of the music, as if they were the uncontrollable squirms of a curious child made to sit still in church. It’s all wrapped up into a nice little package when Ancient Sky ends with “Sink Back,” a track that sounds exactly like a funeral. It begins as one sustained, ringing organ chord, playing somberly for over a minute before other sounds join in, and when they do, it’s marchy and efficient, as if folks were shuffling by dutifully to pay their respects. This album is heavy and sad, and should win an award for establishing mood.