Reviewed: October 1, 2021
Released: September 15, 2021, Stormspell Records
Reviewer: The Elitist Metalhead
One of the best things about the NWOTHM is the diversity among the different bands. Each one carries a little bit of their main influence real close to them and it comes out in their music. However, sometimes a band comes along that will throw hints of multiple influences. San Francisco’s Ancient Empire is one of those bands. Upon first listen you think early 80s German power metal like Scanner but then they throw some USPM into the mix and changes the game completely. Forming in 2021 they’ve been pretty busy with their sixth and most recent full length PRIEST OF STYGIA it seems there is no stopping them.
Coming straight at you from the start with the opener “Immortal.” As I said, right away you want to say European power metal for sure. But they also have a heavier edge and this opener starts off with a heavy riff. The song gets more melodic as we go through it and the chorus is really catchy. The solos are really good and well thought out too. If I were to hear this song on it’s own I would not think this an opener but some how it works on this album. As we work our way through I hear so many cool influences thrown in, from early Savatage to early Accept this band knows how to combine to the sounds from both sides of the pond into a really well thought out metal album. The title track is another really cool song. The opening riff kind of reminds me Dream Evil’s “Break The Chains.” This is another one of those examples of that mix of heavy epic riffs and incredible melodies. Halfway through they slow it down with the vocals taking a more melodic turn and a soaring lead that sends chills; only to pick it back up again to carry it through. A really cool song and one of my favorites on the album.
Digging deeper I realized that this project is rather unique. All guitars, vocals, and bass are handled by Shadowkiller and Hellhound member Joe Liszt. Drums are handled by Hellhound drummer Steve Pelletier and lyrics are provided by Hellhound bassist Rich Pelletier. Some of the solos were performed by the ever busy, when does he sleep, Ced Forsberg (Blazon Stone, Breitenhold, Rocka Rollas). That being said, this is not the only avenue in which Liszt expresses his art…and that’s okay. That just gives me a couple of other discographies to comb through later. One can never have too much good metal! Anyway, as we move our way through we are treated to cool songs like the epic “Nine Worlds.” This is another track that makes he think of Savatage in places and is a rather huge track. Then you have the blistering “Every Man My Enemy” following it up and creating a great contrast. The solo on this song is godly and the riffs are infectious; all the prime ingredients for good metal!
Some say that the NWOTHM is derivative and unoriginal. I am not sure where that perspective comes from because what I have seen is a movement full of talent and great ideas. Are any of these bands reinventing the wheel? No, and that’s the point. Instead what bands like Ancient Empire are trying to do is give our auditory nerves a never ending supply of quality heavy metal. PRIEST OF STYGIA is that quality heavy metal I alluded to. You should probably pick this up, you’ll be happy you did!