Jess And The Ancient Ones
Finnish occult rockers Jess And The Ancient Ones have emerged from the shadows with their own take on 60s psychedelia. Prog catches up with guitarist Thomas Corpse to find out more about current release Vertigo and his surprising passion for Iron Maiden.
The occult prog rockers battle their own demons on new album Vertigo.
Four years since their last album and Jess And The Ancient Ones are back with fresh music. Under ominous clouds of psychedelic sound, they bring the fiery Vertigo. Weaving together blues and occult rock, the arrangements submerse listeners in a dark and deeply mystical experience.
“We recorded the album in October 2019,” states Thomas Corpse, the band’s guitarist and main composer. “We were supposed to release it earlier but due to the virus we decided to hold back. It may seem that we’ve had a four-year gap between albums, but for us it feels like an old album already.”
Co-founded by Corpse in Finland in 2010, JATAO have a fresh, progressive sound that transports listeners to a darkly mystical realm. Since those early days, their psychedelic compositions have gone from strength to strength. Containing elements of blues and folksy rock, the band’s music deliberately steps away from the extreme metal arrangements previously played by Corpse in predecessors Deathchain.
“Back in 2010, I was a bit fed up with playing such extreme music,” he explains. “I wanted to explore the other side of music, so formed Jess And The Ancient Ones to fill that void.”
The band came together naturally, with members drawn from old friendships and coincidental meetings. Of the original grouping, five still remain: Fast Jake (bass), Yussef (drums), Abraham (keyboards), Jess (vocals) and Corpse. With all members living within a five kilometre radius of one another, they’ve been able to closely refine their sound over the years and it’s since evolved to incorporate elements of blues, folk, surf and heavy rock. The new album vibrates with these colourful combinations, drawing listeners into a fiery inferno of sound. Its eight frenzied tracks capture a deep sense of nostalgia and foreboding.
“The main inspiration for the album was this mindset I was in,” Corpse reveals.
“A really dark and fed-up place to be. I can still remember the feelings we had when writing those songs. We made some bad choices, but learned that never again will we be forced into situations we don’t want to be in.”
Corpse chose the title Vertigo to reflect this difficult period. The word associates itself with a dark and confused state of mind that seeks some kind of escape, and he admits it was the driving force behind the album’s themes, arriving long before the melodies were even composed.
“Vertigo is a strong word that I have always loved,” he muses. “I see it as this mental state of vertigo, the feeling of imbalance and dizziness. It seems like a universal title: the whole world in a dizzy mental state.”
The album opener, Burning Of The Velvet Fires, carefully captures this bewildering sensation. Reaching feverish pitches, it’s both ominous and powerfully uplifting. These moods thread their way through every track, bringing a sense of cohesion to the album.
“I try to create a backbone but with space for our keyboard player to drop in his own influences,” Corpse says of his compositional process. “I’ll start chasing a melody that’s in my head, following its first instinct.
It’s painstaking sometimes but I like the naturality [sic] of it. You cannot force it in my opinion.”
Vertigo’s tracks carry the influences of late 60s psychedelia and occult rock. Inspired by artists such as Neil Young, Corpse has clearly drawn elements of vintage rock into his compositions. However, his longest musical love affair began with the British band that first inspired his passion for music.
“Iron Maiden are the whole reason I ever got into music,” he elaborates. “I was born in ’82, in a small place in the countryside. It was poor and there was nothing for kids like us, no entertainment. Then came Iron Maiden and it was a perfect escape from the daily bland life.”
While these influences hover in the background of Corpse’s arrangements, each song has its own distinctive sound and Vertigo pushes Jess And The Ancient Ones into a new musical space.
“The new material is a bit like four or five albums melted together, so there’s something from every album,” Corpse explains. “It’s a long time since we have made something like this. It’s refreshing, but you’ll still recognise it.”
The work that goes on behind the scenes of an album is often overlooked by those not involved in the process. While it may have been a few years since Jess And The Ancient Ones released an album, Corpse speaks of their continued efforts: “After we finished recording The Horse And Other Weird Tales, we were already rehearsing these new songs. It was hard work because we could play the same song 3,000 times before landing on a good version. The listener will never know how much we do to get little details in there.”
Alongside post-release preparations for Vertigo, Corpse and the band have been working on new material ready for future albums and performances. With 90 minutes of music already composed, they appear to be sailing towards a bright future. The guitarist hints at an exciting event next year, but stresses that the details are still in the shadows. Until then, he suggests that the band will be focusing on creating new music and making Vertigo a success.
“I hope listeners may focus on the lyrical side of things and keep in mind that there are a lot of metaphors used,” he says. “Even though we talk about hard subjects there is always this glimmer of hope and power to be found for the listener.”
A glimmer of hope is exactly what we all need right now and Vertigo stirs up a whirlwind of emotions that must be experienced to be truly understood.
Vertigo is out now via Svart Records. See www.facebook.com/jessandtheancientones for more information.
“The main inspiration for the album was this mindset I was in. A really dark and fed-up place to be.”