I don't know when I started wanted to write up reviews of music that I was listening to, but I think this is the very first time such a review will appear on this blog.
I started listening to Jess and the Ancient Ones because of Ghost. Spotify somehow, through hook or by crook, led me to this Finnish band. They're a psychedlic rock band with a few EPs and an album out and, from what I can tell, very little recognition. They haven't written music that'll revolutionize the industry or anything, but they're very good at what they do. Their one complete album is worth listening to.
It's self-titled and begins with Prayer for Death and Fire. This is one of their strongest songs, and I can appreciate that they started off the album with it. The instrumentation isn't overly complex, but the lead singer, the eponymous Jess, has a voice reminiscent of Stevie Nix. Its her presence that elevates the music from being rather mundane psychedelic rock-verging-on-metal to something altogether better and different. When she wails the final chorus, the song is perfect.
Twilight Witchcraft is alright. Good driving beat, simple chord progression. I just want to hear Prayer for Death and Fire again, though, until the breakdown when Jess takes over. It's not as bright as Prayer and stays well within a certain range rather than branching up and down the scale. At that point, the song comes into its own. The vocal progression is more interesting than the guitar—intentionally, I'd wager. On repeated listen-throughs, I think this is a good cooldown song to come off of Prayer.
Sulfur Giants is next. It's got a little more going on, with a long instrumental intro that picks up at around two minutes and shifts back into your regular rock chord progression. Vocals start up around 2:45. The instrumental segment returns at seven minutes in for one more flip back. It's all very nicely balanced.
Ghost Riders starts out with a series of broken chords that pay homage to whatever country-western folk roots are going on in this song. I appreciate what they're doing here, with bells and running chords, and low smoky vocals... but I want to hear Prayer for Death and Fire again. I definitely heard "through the gates of the Silver Key," so there's some Lovecraft in here with all the rest of the general occult stuff.
Once the chorus starts up, the song really gets into gear. Jess and the others seem to excel at the choral sections. It's almost enough to get me to forget the aural dynamite of Prayer for Death and Fire's chorus. Almost.
13th Breath of the Zodiac opens strong with Jess high up in her register. Music is doing more interesting stuff now to support her. Once again, the chorus is the best part of the song. Eminently listenable. The breakdown is pretty good, also.
The Devil (in G minor) is a sudden tonal and modal shift from the other songs. It's great, it's nothing like anything else on the rest of the album, and I don't hear the echo of Prayer for Death and Fire while I'm listening to it. It's a dark, folksy, almost southern gothic number. Jess' range is obviously the best thing about it, and its at its best during the chorus. Obviously.
Come Crimson Death is the last song on the album and returns to the heartland of its psychedelic rock roots with some very King Crimson instrumentation as it opens. Mellow and contemplative, with good hooks, it's much more peaceful than the rest of the album as well. Yes, indeed, come crimson death—and then bring me back to death and fire.
The flow of the album is great. Prayer has a sustaining drive that's cooled down by Twilight Witchcraft and even further by the contemplative instrumental section of Sulfur Giants, which itself contains a number of speed-ups and slowdowns.
However good Prayer may be on its own (and it does stand out, markedly, as the best song on the album), the entire album is composed like a well-structured meal: better for the juxtaposition of its elements, more than the sum of its parts.