It has been more than 9 years since we’ve heard any new material from Ancient Rites. That’s a long time considering it’s not a reunion. This symphonic black metal/folk metal/Viking metal (or whatever the hell they’re classified as now) band from Belgium are no strangers to time though, they’ve been in the game for more than two decades, touring with some of metal’s biggest names (Slayer, Motörhead, Deicide, Mercyful Fate, Morbid Angel, Metallica, and way more). Laguz is Ancient Rites’ 6th full length album and continues with that symphonic new style Ancient Rites have been progressively changing to since Fatherland, released in 1998. Ancient Rites recorded Laguz with producer, Christian “Moschus” Moos at Spacelab Studio in Germany, familiar territory for Ancient Rites, seeing as they have been working together for their last three records. The album is available through Massacre Records and was released on February 20th.
Gunther Theys is joined once again by the awesome drumming of Walter Van Cortenberg. On guitars, we’ve got Erik Sprooten with Domingo Smets. Domingo passed the bass back to Gunther Theys, who also does the vocals. Studio musicians are also used when recording an album like this. Oliver Philipps performed the keyboards and did the orchestral programming, and Evy Verbruggen performed the female vocals. The album cover features an Anglo-Saxon helmet and the lyrical theme, if you haven’t guessed already, is ancient history.
The opening track on Laguz is a themed, instrumental piece called, “The Golden Path To Samarkand.” It sounds like the build up to a battle scene in a medieval, Hollywood movie soundtrack, like something you’d hear during The Lord Of The Rings or Game Of Thrones and is a good setup for the ancient history theme of the record. Then “Carthago Delenda Est” kicks in and so does the epic sounding, symphonic metal we’ve grown accustomed to hearing from Ancient Rites. This is where we get our first taste of what they sound like after 9 long years… Truth is, you’d never know it was that long. They sound exactly the same. So similar, that Laguz could easily be a continuation or a sequel to Ancient Rites’ last album, Rubicon. “Carthago Delenda Est,” “Von Gott Entfernt,” and “Mind Unconquered” are my favorite songs on Laguz. “Carthago Delenda Est” and “Von Gott Entfernt” are both just relentless drum assaults by Walter Van Cortenberg, who shines throughout the entire record.
The song compositions, orchestration and musicianship on Laguz are all really good. The mix is really good as well, everything sounds really clear and distinguishable, which is important for this particular kind of music as everything can tend to get jumbled and chaotic with so much going on. Walter Van Cortenberg‘s drums sound absolutely killer as do the guitar tones of Erik Sprooten and Domingo Smets. Gunther Theys’ vocals have always been hit and miss with me. Some songs he sounds great and on others, not so much. Laguz is no exception. His style is very unique, it’s just not my style. I did enjoy the lyrical content though, I mean who doesn’t like medieval themed lyrics? It’s one of metal’s oldest and most common themes. And, like I said, his vocals do sound great on a lot of songs. “Mind Unconquered” for example has vocal patterns that work well with his style and it sounds awesome.
Overall I think Laguz sounds a lot like their last record, Rubicon and I honestly was hoping for a little more after 9 years. Don’t get me wrong though, this is a good album and if you liked Rubicon you’ll like Laguz as well. It’s just a bit of a letdown to basically hear an extended version of the last album 9 years later. That being said, it’s good to know that Ancient Rites isn’t going away and that they are still putting out quality music. I give Laguz 663/666 horns. It’s a solid album from a veteran band. Definitely worth checking out. You can pick up a copy of Laguz through the Amazon link in the sidebar.