Album Review: ANCESTORS Suspended in Reflections
Falling somewhere between experimental, progressive, and doom/post-metal, Los Angeles’ Ancestors thrives on crafting aural journeys “rife with atmosphere, tension, and raw human emotion.” Since releasing 2012’s In Dreams and Time, the group has scaled down to consisting only of Jason Watkins (keys), newcomer Daniel Pouliot (drums), and Justin Maranga (guitar/vocals). Whereas many artists’ subsequent records would suffer from such a drastic change, Ancestors proves to be an exception with its fifth outing, Suspended in Reflections. True, the sequence isn’t as multifarious, colorful, or aggressive as its predecessors overall; yet, the band transforms their newfound limitations into an exceptional testament to the expressive power of polished minimalism and unified flow. As such, it’s an analogous yet idiosyncratic new offering that proves how vital they remain as a trio.
With Suspended in Reflections, Ancestors compares itself to icons like Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros, King Crimson, Om, and Neurosis. Without a doubt, the six selections on offer—which, to be honest, flow as one grand statement—do conjure such allusions with their “slow and vast, melancholic, dreamy and heavy” identities. Like its earlier counterparts, the album requires and rewards several deep listens to fully appreciate how ingeniously its varied nuances and impactful continuity yield a profound sonic journey.
At the onset—via opener “Gone”—the full-length embraces slow despair with its fusion of patient percussion, angst-ridden decrees, and multilayered six-string dissonance. Rather than become tedious, however, it becomes more affective and engaging as it progresses, channeling greats like Isis and Agalloch in its commanding blanket of tragic catharsis. Afterward, “Through a Window” maintains that core temperament (including the chorus) while also adding denser dynamics to its hectic heartache. Likewise, “The Warm Glow” finishes Suspended in Reflections with its most destructive persona, uniting screams and devilish timbres to suggest that previously investigated liberations are now left disastrously unresolved. In these ways, Suspended in Reflections satisfies for its chaotic beauty alone.
Of course, the true cleverness comes in how Ancestors juxtaposes those qualities with both simultaneous and separate levels of angelic atmosphere and touching instrumentation. Specifically, “Lying in the Grass” provides a gorgeously reserved respite by amalgamating digital vocals, soft piano patterns, organ swirls, acoustic guitar strums, and more to craft a chilling yet heavenly realm. (In fact, it feels like the sublime offspring of The Autumn Chorus and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.)
“Into the Fall” goes an even more luscious route by infusing its bleak dirges with a plethora of mournful strings; in contrast, the penultimate “Release” is nightmarish yet serene in how its computerized oscillations and melodic loops summon the dystopic futures of films like Blade Runner and Children of Men. Even more outstanding is how that tone is broken up by a warm, jazzy middle section of thick bass notes, starry chimes, and light guitar chords. Combined, these traits arguably make “Release” the most ambitious track here.
A special mention must be made to highlight the understated brilliance of how Ancestors segue between the movements on Suspended in Reflections. Not only does each piece contain—to varying degrees—a mixture of those aforementioned textural contrasts, but the ways in which the link together are equally praiseworthy. For instance, the sudden static wave that concludes “Gone” is cunningly interrupted as by the initial dread of “Through a Window”; similarly, “Release” starts and finishes with a core motif of synths and piano that bleeds into “The Warm Glow” with crushing elegance. It’s moments like these that demonstrate how much care and planning the trio put into making the record something special.
As with every Ancestors work, this fifth outing is more of a singular experience than a collection of songs. Their ability to bond heavy and light personas seamlessly and imaginatively (with plenty of essential gradations beneath and around those surfaces) remains remarkable. Furthermore, what they’ve lost in forceful and flamboyant complexity, they’ve made up for in even more delicate and weighty explorations into universal sentiments. Thus, Suspended in Reflections is an essential addition to the Ancestors catalog and a proud declaration that they didn’t lose any magic when they lost some members.