Ancient VVisdom broke through last year when Prosthetic re-released their 2011 independent album A Godlike Inferno. Critics and punters alike found themselves enamored of the band's unusual mix of 90's reminiscent vocals and epic acoustic campfire folk, all underscored by spare kettle drums with cleanly enunciated lyrics praising Satan. It might have been written off as mere novelty had it not been so darn compelling.
Deathlike picks up precisely where A Godlike Silence left off – at least instrumentally – while trading in the thematic Satan worship for a more conservative obsession: mortality. Titles like "Waiting to Die", "Let the End Begin" and the title track betray their subject matter with little subtlety, while even "Rebirth" requires a brush with death to trigger the spiritual renewal Nathan Opposition sings emotively of.
A cursory listen may well paint Deathlike as a rehash of its predecessor – particularly if one isn't paying attention to the lyrics – and certainly the template set in place with A Godlike Inferno is present and accounted for on all twelve tracks here; but a dearth of variation doesn't mean a lack of freshness. In particular, Opposition's vocals have gotten more expressive this time around, even while his more hopeful tone deliberately contrasts with the somber, often suicidal lyrics (and truthfully, the comparisons with grunge-era vocalists are overstated; Opposition only resembles a Layne Staley knock off when he lets his syllables trail off and flatten at the end of a line).
"Last Man on Earth" introduces a Western motif via buried Hammond organ and an ethereal steel guitar twang. The distant clinking of tambourines in "Never Live Again" similarly recalls a lazy afternoon in a Tex-Mex cantina, the unexpected surge of power chords during the chorus shaking you from what had been up to then a pleasant reverie.
But ultimately Deathlike is a simple refinement of its predecessor and, like that album, succeeds on the back of well written, accessible songs, deceptively simplistic at first but hiding enough grace notes and subtleties to withstand repeat trips to the well. If there's one knock that can be had here it's that the lyrics come off a bit one-note (reading less like a narrative concept album and more like 12 songs that all happen to be about the same thing) but its a minor gripe toward a band that, like fellow Austinites The Sword, have carved out a niche for themselves less through diversity and experimentation and more through sheer craftsmanship.
9.0 / 10
Deathlike is out February 5 on Prosthetic.