August 30, 2023

Oh, I do love these guys, they’re a touch retro and wacky! – and what is it about Canadian rock bands, and why have I missed so many Grrreats? Blood Ceremony are my latest (late) discovery, stumbling across them whilst recently researching compatriots The Damn Truth and The Tea Party…

For the Uninitiated (hah!), Blood Ceremony were formed in 2006 in TorontoOntario, so they’ve been around for a while which makes my ignorance even more unforgiveable. They’ve previously released five full-length studio albums, with The Old Ways Remain being their recent sixth.

Blood Ceremony’s style has been described as “Flute-tinged Witch Rock” (fair) – and their lyrics are liberally scattered with images of Magick and Celtic / paganistic influences….you could badge them as being a melting pot of classic hard rock, psychedelia, folk-rock, prog, Goth – and a touch of doom metal! The band is fronted by singer/flutist/organist Alia O’Brien, whose flute solos are reminiscent of Jethro Tull‘s Ian Anderson. Throw in touches of Fairport Convention, Wishbone Ash and Witchwood, what’s not to like – this certainly hits the sweet-spot for me.

Blood Ceremony are:
Sean Kennedy (guitars), Alia O’Brien (vocals/flute/organ), Lucas Gadke (bass) and Michael Carillo (drums)

Their last album was 2016’s Lord Of Misrule, so it’s been a while, although much of that was down to Covid. The last couple of albums had been recorded in London, and that clearly couldn’t happen so a simpler more home-grown plan was developed, it just took a little longer. The title is actually taken from a previous song of theirs, and typifies the band’s belief that the ancient past still haunts the present – and that sense and influence of mysticism was only reinforced by pandemic lock-downs.

The Old Ways Remain is perhaps more hypnotic and adventurous than their previous work, less heavy but still unashamedly groovy. The band actually created this little beauty independently, and in the process were able to use a selection of local special guests / 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 on fiddle, pedal steel and saxophone – the final result definitely benefitting from this process. The Old Ways Remain is taken from a line in an earlier Blood Ceremony song, Sean explains how how seemed appropriate because as song-writers the band always seem to come back to this idea of the ancient world haunting the present – a big influence being Welshman occult writer Arthur Machen.

The Hellfire Club is the opening track, and straightaway you can hear the development of the band’s arrangements, with bigger riffs and more prominent flute melodies. It’s a nice fat slab of classic psych-rock that immediately reminds me of Jethro Tull, but even more so those Italian Greats, Witchwood?

Ipsissimus is next, another nicely retro number building from the opener, lovely melodies, topped with the oh-so-catchy, hypnotic chorus – a real earworm! Great bit of guitar work from Sean, he’s a very versatile, criminally underrated musician!

Eugenie is a really strong number, an absolute wiz of a track encompassing so much – there’s a raft of folky styles with the “rock element” guitar-work nicely faded in the background. The rhythm section are so taut on this one, drums and bass perfectly matched. Throw in some very tasty sax from one of their guests, some nice riffs and you’ve got a great track on your hands.

Lolly Willows again has hark-backs to early Jethro Tull in the vocal/guitar phrasing, add bursts of flute to this and the resemblance is uncanny! A pacey work-out, this certainly works for me. Powers of Darkness is next, more colourful, energetic folk-rock, very catchy – I guess this is the nearest occult-rock gets to being radio-friendly!

Bonfires at Belloc Combe features guest Laura Bates’ fiddle to the fore, some great guitar lines, not to mention some pretty chunky riffing and Alia vocal cadences again sounding so similar to Mr. Anderson. The lyrics tell a classic Druidic tale of Samhain, with faerie-like creatures dancing in the dark. I’m intrigued that this Canadian band seem so well-versed in very English mediaeval folklore and superstition – The Fairports would be very proud of this little beast.

‘Widdershins’ is an old Germanic/English/Scottish word describing something that’s a bit dark, tainted, unlucky – and anti-clockwise, a direction associated with the Devil in middle English tales….so it’s perfectly suited to Blood Ceremony’s sense of mystic mischief.

Hecate is a classic folk-rock arrangement, maturely written in a style that is soaked in early 70’s material from the likes of Shirley Collins, and Richard and Linda Thompson; and Mossy Wood ploughs the same darkly melodic furrow, with tinkly semi-acoustic guitar and a sublime bassline. This could almost be early/mid-period Fairport Convention – whisper it soft, I’m rediscovering my love for Folk-rock here!

The album’s closer, Song of The Morrow, is the longest of the song-set, its another luscious arrangement with Alia’s smooth vocals soaring above a timeless rock ballad arrangement. A distillation of the sense of The Old Ways still influencing what happens today and tomorrow, “Hearing phantoms in the wind, I hear them calling“… This is quite a psychedelic number, echoing multi-layered voices in the bridge section before a suitably beefy riff kicks in – it’s this mix of classic riffing rock, balladic melodies, blended with that part-mystic, part-folky hippyness that works for me. Reminding me of Wishbone Ash’s Lady Jay from There’s The Rub, the track extends and gradually fades with nice touches of flute and fiddle, and synths provide a spooky spaciness that drifts into the ether…

Overall, the band wear their signature “magickal otherworld” occult-rock leanings lightly, maybe less heavily than previous albums, and the songs ain’t at all doomy – they’re entirely bewitching and enjoyable. The folkiness and “70’s style” of production blend to form an atmosphere which is mostly quirky and whimsical, again very reminiscent of early Tull’s story-telling and arrangements.

Dare I say “Spell-binding”… I love this album and its beguiling “olde-world” charm, The Old Ways Remain is a wonderful collection of great songs, with some great riffs and nicely evocative arrangements that conjure a bit of everything from Sabbath through to Fairport Convention by way of Tull in particular. As I say, stumbling across this little gem is one of my musical highlights of the year so far!

A “photo soundtrack” to sample.

And to get a flavour of the band in their pomp, live, watch this YouTube video – the sound isn’t great but you get the gist…proper old-school retro-rock!