REVIEW: Jess and The Ancient Ones – Vertigo

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If you’re at all a fan of Finnish psychedelic rock, you are surely familiar with JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES. Formed in Kuopio in 2010 and with three albums already under their belt dating back to 2012, it’s time for these guys to share something new. “Vertigo” will be released on May 21st, 2021, via Svart Records, a decently long 4 years after their last album.

The album opens, admittedly, on a bit of a strange note with “Burning of the Velvet Fires,” simply because the mix is weirdly mushy. At first we wondered if it might be an issue with the promo, but the problem does seem to be largely limited to the opener (though can be heard in other songs, like “Summer Tripping Man”), as already by the time you get to “World Paranormal” – a catchy, groovy track that works well as the follow-up to a starter – the mix evens out a bit. It may just be a stylistic choice done in a way that is reminiscent of the way music was recorded way back in the day, but at least personally, it just felt a bit unbalanced, with Jess a bit too heavy in the foreground. Otherwise, the opener is actually a strong track, with a great ’70s feel made whole by skillful musicians.

Fans of the band may not be surprised to hear that Jess herself is one of the main highlights of the album. She has such a vibrant voice and uses it in wild and creative ways that not just any vocalist would dare; I swear she even rocks a bit of a Danzig vibe occasionally, like in “Summer Tripping Man.” At times she’s not even fully in tune, but you can tell it’s on purpose because it works within the context of the music. I suppose that’s probably a point in favor of the psychedelic genre itself – it is, by definition, experimental and pretty “out there.” Let’s not just highlight one aspect though, because Fast Jake on bass helps us all to remember that bass doesn’t need to just be there to help keep the rhythm. Don’t believe me? Check out “Love Zombi” and tell me the bass isn’t incredible, I dare you. Also, Abraham seems to be combining a lot of what’s great about the organ flavorings of the late greats, Ken Hensley and Jon Lord, in pretty much every track. Yussuf on drums is far from stuck in a disco beat, keeping things lively and interesting with the ever-changing pacing, while Thomas Corpse‘s guitar riffs and fills are the cherry on top of this psychedelic sundae.

The obligatory stoner blues is also included in the album as it winds to a close with “Strange Earth Illusion,” which is a somewhat slower track in which Jess drawls and croons, but also wails like an unchained banshee coming forth from some sort of hellmouth. The finale is just that, as it’s an 11+ minute progressive psychedelic adventure, in which the band play around with all of their strengths. In deed, this finishing track toys with all sorts of time signatures, gives everyone a chance to take the lead, and generally works as a masterpiece of a finale with which to leave listeners craving more once it wraps up.

I may not have understood JESS AND THE ANCIENT ONES before now, but having listened to “Vertigo” a few times, I now understand the hype! Easily ranking among BLUES PILLS, LUCIFER, and other fabulous modern bands that play with this ’70s style, JATAO show off a lot of diversity and flare for progressive experimentation with this album. Highly recommended for anyone who likes skillfully-executed occult rock.

Tracklist

  1. Burning of the Velvet Fires
  2. World Paranormal
  3. Talking Board
  4. Love Zombi
  5. Summer Tripping Man
  6. Born to Kill
  7. What’s on Your Mind
  8. Strange Earth Illusion

Lineup

  • Jess – vocals
  • Thomas Corpse – guitars
  • Fast Jake – bass
  • Yussuf – drums and percussion
  • Abraham – keyboards, organ, synthesizer

Label

Svart Records

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