Ex Libris – ANN – Chapter 1: Anne Boleyn (Self-Released)

Thursday, 2nd August 2018
Rating: 9/10

Eschewing the traditional release model, Ex Libris have returned after 2014’s Medea (vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen’s stint in Xandria no doubt slowed the gears for a bit) with a unique approach. Releasing ANN in 3 segments – one for each of the famous “Ann” historical figures that they will center on – Chapter 1 goes to Anne Boleyn, who played a major role in England’s separation from the Roman Catholic Church (due to her marriage to Henry VIII) and the English Reformation. History lesson aside, it’s clear that there’s plenty of story for the band to chew on, especially with three songs at the helm.

Some may scoff at ‘a mere three tracks’ but the most striking aspect of this first chapter is just how complete and utterly satisfying it is. Storytelling isn’t anything new to heavy metal, but the way that Ex Libris compacts the important details of Boleyn’s life into 18-minutes of music shows how far they were willing to dive in and commit to telling the tale. One could center the attention on van Giersbergen’s vocals (and we shall down below), but the entire proggy picture that encompasses these three tracks could easily tell a story without words. Each track contains the necessary intricacy to grab the prog-fiends and hold their attention, but there’s feeling to be found in the structuring of each instrument. From the intrigue and excitement of “The Courtship” to the maddening sorrow of “The Miscarriage” to the triumphant resignation to fate with “The Beheading,” there’s a cinematic quality that follows each note, really placing the listener into the scene and setting. Considering that only van Giersbergen and keyboardist Koen Stam are the only founding members that remain (with three new members to round out guitar, bass, and drums), this is an even stronger and more resonating accomplishment.

As alluded to above, van Giersbergen puts on an emotional rollercoaster of a performance. Those only familiar with her work in Xandria will find her to be even more diverse in her range here, employing a tone to perfectly capture the mood of each track, as if channeling the spirit of Boleyn herself in the genuine nature of her emotions. “The Miscarriage” is going to be the clear fan-favorite in this regard, with a significant ‘wow factor’ as her blend of sorrow and anger sends an already potent and touching song into the stratosphere with emotive heaviness.

A story told completely in under 20-minutes, ANN – Chapter 1: Anne Boleyn ends precisely when it should. With the slurry of emotions it contains, it would only lessen the impact if it had been stretched out further. Instead it stands as a powerhouse of progressive metal in its expressiveness and storytelling, inviting the listener to step into a different world and return to it as frequently as they deem necessary. As the first part of three, it also does an exceptional job of gearing up the listener for two more rounds of heavy metal at its finest.

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