Ancient – “Eerily Howling Winds” (1993)

As previously pointed out by the editor of this site, metal demo recordings does not exist as crass commercial propositions with the sole purpose of advertising the market viability of the artist, but function — at least ideally — as independent works produced and distributed without further infringement from the recording industry. In spite of eventual shortcomings resulting from lack of budget, experience, and time, demo-level recordings remain a breath of fresh air because they oftentimes capture bands at a nascent and untempered creative stage.

Besides their artistic value, demos can also function as important informational sources regarding the development of a particular band and/or style. Seen in this light, Eerily Howling Winds serves a dual purpose. It is highly enjoyable as a musical work, but also interesting from a developmental perspective. The tape comprises three compositions in total, each of which would show up in re-recorded and slightly re-arranged form on Ancient’s debut album Svartalvheim (1994). While still a few steps away from the epic otherworldly atmosphere and epic scope of the band’s seminal works (Svartalvheim and the Trolltaar EP), “Eerily Howling Winds” captures the essential power of early Ancient in glorious rawness.

The title track serve as a good case in point. By all means a prototypical Ancient composition, “Eerily Howling Winds” cycles through relatively basic yet highly distinctive long-phrase minor melodic riffs, punctuated by a contrasting chorus section that serve as a nexus before the song narrative plunges into further digressions of main themes. Despite belonging to the Nordic school of black metal, Ancient shows a surprising affinity with contemporary Greek and French bands in regard to melodic syntax and instrumental lyricism, but parallels could also be drawn to the epic sensibilities of their compatriots in Gorgoroth and Immortal as well as the Polish Graveland. A gratifyingly crude production coupled with stripped down structures and straightforward performances highlight the core element of the composition, namely the dynamic interaction of riffs assembled into an organic whole.

It took only a few months after the demo had been put to tape before Ancient began recording their first full-length album. Thankfully enough a record deal was landed with the France’s Listenable Records, giving the band the opportunity to create without compromise. With rough edges straightened out and granted a suitably warm and bass-heavy production, “Eerily Howling Winds” reached its full potential as a immersive, dreamlike black metal composition on Svartalvheim. Compare this to the situation a few years down the road when the band signed a contract with Metal Blade and began their downward slope into ridiculousness and you get a good idea of how corporate influence degraded black metal into yet another pompous rock’n’roll triviality.

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7 thoughts on “Ancient – “Eerily Howling Winds” (1993)”

  1. Gladius et Scutum says:

    A funny story concerning corporate influence. I became buddies with a guy at work a few years ago. He had been in a band that got a record deal with Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles. During the recording process Biafra himself would apparently come down to try and insert himself in the process and control the direction of the music. The engineer guy was accustomed to this behaviour and had set up a whole console of controls that wasn’t attached to anything. Biafra would fiddle with this faux soundboard with a great sense of industry and care before declaring “that’s more like it!” and leaving, satisfied with having done his part so expertly.

    While there is certainly corporate influence on musicians, I think it may well be a bit overstated. There are also lots of clever practical work-arounds to attempts at corporate control. How many hundreds and thousands of bands are signed to contracts by record companies? Can a few dozen stuffy, clueless assholes in suits really exert that much control on these bands? More than anything, I think it is a lack of spine on the bands’ part as well as self-policing by the bands themselves via trying to suck up to the desires of the suits in order to hopefully get some more bucks.

    1. Johan P says:

      Funny anecdote, and sad, of course!

      You are probably correct in noting that direct influence of the recording industry may be overstated. It is more a question of the corruption of the artists themselves — wanting to get popular, stay relevant, etc. and while doing so losing much of what made their early works worthwhile. This is really too big a subject to discuss at length here, but maybe someone’s up for the work of writing about it…

      1. Gladius et Scutum says:

        Herr Johan P,
        I do think that you, and previous writers on this site, have hit upon something in regards to demos. First, the artist doing the demo is exercising a self-censorship and only recording what they think is the best of their (albeit limited) work; also a demo is designed to impress not only potential record companies but also fans and other bands. Second, not having seen ‘the face of the beast’ the artists will always have something of a youthful exuberance and virility on their demos. Third, at the demo point in a band’s existence, making music is play and not work. Once a band is on a label, making music becomes more and more work – a job; especially with multi-record deals the opportunity for self-censorship receeds as deadlines and obligations rear their unpleasant heads.

        My personal experience: I played bass for a shitty math-core band. The drummer was a friend of mine and I joined the band because I enjoyed playing with him, having been in other bands with him. In discussions with the band’s two founding members, I joined on the condition that I would play whatever basslines they told me to play, otherwise I would just make my own to songs they wrote – I would not contribute to songwriting as I had such responsibilities with other, better bands. They had a couple of catchy, if stupid, songs already mostly written and we put together some more and made a demo. We got a deal to make an EP. Other than telling us which studio to record in (none of us knew of any studios, thus we had no preference) there was no interference. In the studio the band’s founder became utterly obsessed with perfectionism and ended up writing the existing songs to death. Endless re-recordings of guitar/bass/vocal/drum parts that had any perceived flaw. Endless mixing and tweaking the sound. The end result was a lifeless, yet ‘flawless’ collection of grey bullshit. Some small tours followed, and under the (mostly self-imposed) stress the founding member started to demand I write songs for the band as well. I refused as my songs would not have fit in any way into the band’s sound, and besides, I thought we had an agreement on that matter. Ultimately the degredation and failure of the music came from within, and not without.

        So perhaps ‘corporate influence’ can more accurately be labelled as environmental stress that brings out the flaws and weaknesses of a band be it a limited number of ideas, neurotic tendencies of the members, desire for approval, or whatever. On demos environmental stress contrives most often to bring out the strengths of a band.

        1. So perhaps ‘corporate influence’ can more accurately be labelled as environmental stress that brings out the flaws and weaknesses of a band be it a limited number of ideas, neurotic tendencies of the members, desire for approval, or whatever.

          Sort of like peer pressure, making ourselves conform in order to make others like us. Crowdism.

        2. Johan P says:

          Very insightful, and I’m sure anyone who has ever been in a band can relate to this.

  2. Mesh-pattern says:

    My two cents.

    It seems like the normal progression in sound then is from an inchoate sort of thrust in some direction from which many alternatives are possible, with the full length validating one ‘trend’ as the band refines their sound into something more confident in one vision. This can be either a crystallization (formation of higher dimensions to the music) or sloughing off (purifying something for the sake of attaining intensity). I feel like it is from here that decay naturally sets in, because it’s hard to go back to the Demo stage and then get back into the full-length mentality which is really the maturation of impulses. Perhaps this is an innate weakness of modern music’s ‘album’ mentality in how it might not necessarily stultify on the album itself, but the intent of further development (except in rare cases or ones in which an overall movement/genre mood permeates the creators).

    Ultimately the best demo –> album developments showcase the band achieving a kind of unitary sound on the latter, this unitary quality making the best metal music ‘definitive’ of the sound it is trying to achieve (This reminds me of Medieval Metaphysics somehow.)I felt this when listening to Bathory’s The Return… recently.

  3. Finnish death metal was the Pinnacle of death metal says:

    What exactly is the role of a demo in black metal vs say death metal?

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