Canada is the epicentre of progressive extreme metal right now with Ysgaroth, Fuck the Facts and Without Mercy producing excellent albums this year. But perhaps the most important band to emerge from the North American nation were Nova Scotia prog metal sensations, Ancient Thrones, who released one of the best records this year and secured a place in the SBR Top 7 Debut Albums of 2020.
Taking influences from black, death and thrash metal and elements of folk music, the quartet grounded their opus in a narrative of one man’s journey through death and rebirth. As we said in our original review: ‘No band thought it conceivable to write the metal version of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, but this Nova Scotia quartet are not just any band. This is a remarkable journey for the contemplative mind.’
We caught up with drummer, vocalist and lyricist, Sean Hickey, to find out what inspired him during the creation of the band’s debut album. Here are the top seven influences on the making of The Veil.
7. The Ocean – Pelagial (2013)
When Dylan, Matt, and I got together to write this album, we put up a whiteboard with our many influences (some that surely are missing from this list). Dylan introduced me to Pelagial, a masterful conceptual record by German progressive metal titans, The Ocean. The theme of the record is the ocean itself, and as the record progresses, the listener is sinking deeper and deeper into the water, while the music reflects that slow descent to the bottom. It begins with a bright and colourful piano introduction and concludes with a doom-like quality on the closing track. It’s such a visual and ambitious album that is flawlessly executed. With our own story, there were many transitions through the steps of grief, and we tried to reflect those gradual transitions in a similar method to how The Ocean did on Pelagial. If you listen closely, The Veil begins with hard-hitting thrashing death metal during the denial and bargaining stages (tracks 1-4), but later becomes more droning and dooming as the character approaches the dissolve of his being in the climax of the record (tracks 7-9). Just the fact The Ocean have stuck to early historical concepts their entire career is a legendary achievement in musical storytelling. Pelagial is a masterpiece, and The Ocean is one of the best that progressive metal has ever seen.
6. A Ghost Story (2017) (Director: David Lowery)
It was a toss-up between choosing this and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. I went with A Ghost Story because of its closer relation to my own experiences. This is about a man who dies suddenly and comes back to the material world as a ghost to observe what he left behind. It is a minimalist film with real emotions that are conveyed genuinely and has a lot of style. In my mind, I saw my own character in the story of The Veil going through similar pains of love and loss as the character does in this film. I actually had a lyrical draft completed before seeing the film, but, after viewing, suffice to say, it made an impact on the final product. Even with our single cover for ‘The Soul to Flesh’, I wanted to pay homage to the poster of this film with the black veil instead of a blank white sheet and spelling the title using the same font. A melancholic tale of tragedy and the beauty of life that I believe does not receive enough credit.
5. Alcest – Écailles de Lune (2010)
Another atmospheric band that builds entire dream worlds of reflection through their soundscapes. Blackgaze and post-black metal were something I was deeply entrenched in while writing the lyrics for this album. I think the music of Alcest brings a rewarding beauty to the listener and the voice of Neige, to me, feels like a guiding light through a treacherous storm. I just feel relaxed when I hear this band. The droning guitar parts with the simple traditional blast beats were something I wanted to have on the closing tracks of this record. I find you just get lost in the haze of it all. I could really be listing any of their albums here, but Écailles de Lune accompanied me through many writing trips in the rain, so it gets the mention.
4. Eckhart Tolle – The Power of Now
I was reading a lot of different books as I went through a change in my life while writing the record. This is probably the most popular one when it comes to the notion of presence and gaining awareness of your ego. The character of Death in our story speaks on some of the teachings of Tolle, particularly dissolving the pain-body, or the attachment we have to our own pain. This book changed my life in many ways. I seriously became a new person after reading it.
3. Between the Buried and Me – The Parallax II: Future Sequence (2012)
Between the Buried and Me is hands down one of our biggest influences as a band. The Parallax II: Future Sequence tells the story of conflicting consciousnesses inhabiting the same body and the painful choices they must make as they become godlike. It is a continuation of some of the themes from their previous records, and that type of attention to detail and world-building is just unreal. The way Tommy Rogers tells a complex narrative with abstract lyrics is something I really aspired to challenge myself with while writing the story for The Veil. There’s a lot happening on this album, and that can be off-putting to some more traditional metal fans, including its feature-length run time. We enjoy genre-bending in our music and writing long songs that keep people guessing, and that could be attributed to this band. As a progressive metal band, no one does it better than BTBAM.
2. Baroness – Yellow & Green (2012)
Frontman John Baizley is simply flawless in everything he does. My introduction to him as an artist was Beyond the Permafrost by Skeletonwitch, which is one of my favourite bands. My introduction to Baroness was on Yellow & Green, and I still remember the day I brought the record home and fell in love with it. What they have been through and persevered from is something which most bands would not recover from. The grounds they continue to break as a metal band while maintaining what makes them unique to metal just blows my mind. The way they walk that line of calm inner peace and aggressive pain was something we looked to achieve in The Veil. I hear a lot of people dislike this record because it was a strong departure from their previous ones, but to me, this is one of the best records ever made.
1. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage (2011)
This was a record I would listen to almost every day while I was crafting ideas surrounding the story for The Veil. There’s something about the atmosphere in this album that brings you away from the physical world into this haunting but warm place. When I listen, I try to imagine I’m resting in the grass by a stream. It’s like the key to entering a spiritual realm for me. Shout out to Kyle McDonald from Zaum for introducing me to this band. They have changed the way I appreciate black metal.
*** Ancient Thrones self-released The Veil on 06/11/2020. You can read the original SBR review here. ***