Blood Ceremony - The Old Ways Remain
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Mesmerising and multi-faceted, Blood Ceremony have spent the last several years blurring the lines between heavy music’s past and present. Formed in Toronto, Canada, in 2006, they were swiftly heralded as a cut above the retro rock pack, armed as they were with a sound that incorporated the riff-driven power of doom, the woozy, warm glow of psychedelia and the flute-fuelled magick of acid folk and rootsy prog. After releasing their self-titled debut album through Rise Above Records in 2008, Blood Ceremony have been a superlative presence in the underground; expanding their sonic vision in multiple directions, as albums like 2013’s The Eldritch Dark and, most recently, Lord of Misrule (2016) set a new standard for kaleidoscopic, analogue fervour.
Seven years have passed since Blood Ceremony last released a full-length album, but that all changes in 2023. Pieced together during lockdown months, and brought to fruition with a host of esteemed special guests, the Canadians’ fifth album, The Old Ways Remain, is set to emerge in the spring. Diverse, hypnotic and eminently groovy, the new songs push Blood Ceremony’s sound into new territory while also honouring the atavistic ethos that has led them to such triumphs in the past. Initial plans to repeat the successful formula that birthed Lord of Misrule and fly to the UK to record again at Toe Rag Studios in London fell victim to Covid restrictions, and so Sean and his comrades – Alia O’Brien (vocals/flute/organ), Lucas Gadke (bass) and Michael Carillo (drums) – switched to a simpler but equally satisfying Plan B.
“By late 2021, we realised that if we were ever going to finish a new album, we’d just have to record locally and do it ourselves,” says guitarist Sean Kennedy. “And that’s what we did. We started rehearsing the material again and were still really excited by it. Once we revisited everything, we had a new burst of energy. We found a local studio that had what we needed and we were off! Recording nearby allowed us to bring in friends like Laura Bates from (fellow folk-doom crew) Völur to play fiddle, Joseph Shabason added saxophone to Eugenie, and Mike Eckert played pedal steel on Hecate. We produced ourselves, along with our friend, Paul Kehayas. We worked with an engineer named Chris Snow who immediately got what we were trying to do. Richard Whittaker mixed the tracks at his London, UK, studio, and we think he did a great job.”
A vital testament to Blood Ceremony’s collective efficacy, The Old Ways Remain is an album for those who love great songs, great riffs and cryptic tales from the outer limits. Along the way, there are strident, balls-out psych rockers like sizzling opener The Hellfire Club (which Sean Kennedy is at pains to say was written before Netflix smash Stranger Things co-opted the phrase!), the swinging, occult stomp of Ipsissimus, the sharp and catchy Hecate, and the absurdly groovy Lolly Willows (previously released as a single in 2019); while the more expansive likes of Eugenie, The Bonfires At Belloc Coombe and wistful closer Song Of The Morrow take the band’s music into gently unfamiliar territory, as their sonorous blend of heaviness and hallucination truly takes flight.
“This album is a continuation of our sound, although with every album we try to push ourselves in some new musical directions,” Sean notes. “The album has some folk-rock songs, as well as some heavier tracks, and others with more of a pop vibe. Having said that, we can’t escape ourselves, and I think it will fit alongside our previous releases. One big difference with this record is that we included a song that wasn’t written by a band member. My wife, Amy Bowles, wrote Mossy Wood, which I think is a great folk-rock song. She had written it for an earlier group that she and I were in. It really fit the overall vibe of the record.”
And what a vibe that is. The Old Ways Remain stays true to Blood Ceremony’s illustrious past, and yet its reach is longer and broader than on any previous album. Nonetheless, the record’s title comes across as a renewed statement of intent, as the unwavering power of the riff and a huge dose of imagination collide once again, but with more style, class, and enduring impact than ever before.
“The Old Ways Remain is taken from a line in an earlier Blood Ceremony song,” Sean explains. “It seems appropriate, actually. We always seem to come back to this idea of the ancient world haunting the present. Arthur Machen explored this in books like The Hill of Dreams and his writing has been a big influence.”
Undeniably long-awaited but very much worth the wait, Blood Ceremony’s return promises to inject some otherworldly charm back into the underground. As their songwriting prowess grows and their music takes on deeper and brighter colours in response, the quartet are perfectly poised to renew their special relationship with nostalgic riff-worshippers everywhere. Come the spring, the Old Ways will cast their spell all over again.
“We’re looking forward to releasing The Old Ways Remain. It’s been a long time coming, so we’re eager to finally get the songs out there and we hope people enjoy them,” Sean concludes. We have a UK and European tour coming up in May 2023 with Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats which will be a great time. It’s been a rough few years, but the old ways remain and the ancient gods live on!”