Album Review: Ancient Empire’s “Priest of Stygia”

I’m in if it has a good guitar riff and attitude. Since the early 1980s, I’ve been an obsessive hard rock/heavy metal fan and collector.

“Priest of Stygia,” Ancient Empire

Country: United States of America

Traditional/Power Metal is the genre.

Stormspell Records is releasing a new album in 2021.

8 tracks / 39:53 minutes

Priest of Stygia, their sixth and most recent album, was released via Stormspell Records, and it’s yet another solid collection of chugging mid-paced trad metal produced by Joe Liszt (guitars/bass/vocals) and drummer Steve Pelletier, with lyric assistance from Steve’s brother Rich Pelletier. (Cederick “Ced” Forsberg of Blazon Stone and Rocka Rollas fame also makes an appearance on five of the album’s eight tracks, contributing some blazing guitar solos.) Since their debut, When Empires Fall, in 2014, the Californian true-metallers of Ancient Empire have been a consistent and prolific band, releasing a new studio album almost every year.

Priest… is a collection of stories about swords and barbarians inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. While their previous albums have all dealt with cosmic wars, time travel, and other science fiction concepts, Priest… is a collection of stories about swords and barbarians inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. So join Ancient Empire on their journey to olde Cimmeria by pressing “play”… Only in the lyrical department does Priest of Stygia depart from A.E.’s previous formula. I’ve reviewed several of Ancient Empire’s previous albums for this excellent website, and I’m happy to report that they’re still in great shape musically. Conan himself “stalks the pages of this booklet, lookingIng for ale, wenches, and battle,” according to the album’s liner notes, and invites us all to “grab a beer, crank it up, and enjoy!” Ancient Empire specializes in riff-heavy metal for fans of bands like Riot, Liege Lord, Jag Panzer, and Iced Earth from the 1980s.

“Stygian Priest”

The Music

In any case, things get off to a proper rollicking start with the pounding “Immortal,” which has a rhytmic chug reminiscent of Annihilator. So far, everything has gone well. I haven’t read anything Conan-related since the Marvel Comics series of the 1970s and 1980s (honorable mentions to Roy Thomas and John Buscema), so I’m not sure if Priest of Stygia is a concept album or a collection of songs based on the Conan theme. As usual, Liszt’s husky but confident vocal style reminds me of Iron Savior’s Piet Sielck. The title track is an ode to the villainous looking fellow who is facing down Conan from his throne of skulls on the album cover, and “Beyond the North Wind” gallops along like vintage Priest or Maiden with a touch of thrash nastiness.

The moody “Burn Another Liar” (which I think is the coolest song title on the album) and the stylish “Nine Worlds” keep the energy up, and “Every Man My Enemy” introduces a touch of speed metal before the album closes with the cinematic “Alone Against the Savage Hordes,” which begins with some nice acoustic strumming before roaring into metallic high gear. The melodic epic “Island of the King,” which clocks in at just over six minutes and features lots of cool Helloween-style guitar histrionics, is Priest of Stygia’s longest track.

“Alone Against the Savage Hordes” is a story about a man who is alone against the savage h

To Sum It Up

Priest of Stygia doesn’t reinvent the heavy metal wheel in any way, but it’s a solid album that stays true to Ancient Empire’s aggressive, hard-hitting template from their previous five albums. The Conan-inspired lyrics and cover artwork may lead new listeners to expect an album full of over-the-top, macho rock warrior cheese à la Manowar, but the A.E. guys thankfully avoid the overblown, “all men play on ten” campy power metal style.

Ancient Empire is a veteran metal band (members have also spent time in cult acts like Hellhound, Forgotten Disciple, Rocka Rollas, and Shadowkiller), so they know what they’re doing and don’t need my help. So I guess all I can do now is say “nice work (again), fellas,” while pressing the “play” button for the umpteenth time.

Check out Stormspell Records’ Bandcamp page or the band’s official Facebook and Reverbnation pages for more information on Ancient Empire or to order a copy of Priest of Stygia.

Metal is being brought to you by Joe Liszt.

 

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