Ex Libris – ANN – Chapter 2: Anastasia Romanova (Self-Released)

Wednesday, 13th March 2019
Rating: 9/10

Last summer, Ex Libris kicked off their ambitious trilogy ANN, with the first chapter devoted to Anne Boleyn. This second chapter takes place in a different period of history, with the band turning their sights to Russia with Anastasia Romanova – the youngest daughter of the last tsar (Nicholas II). Again with a tragic tale, the EP focuses on a few major points of her life and eventual death.

Perhaps the best part of what has been presented of the ANN trilogy is how much attention to detail has been given. Chapter 2 sounds like Ex Libris, but taken in an entirely different direction from Chapter 1. This sounds distinctly Russian when it comes to the atmosphere. Of course, the base coating is still progressive metal to the bone (the riffs of “The Healer” are a real triumphant treat), but some well-placed authentic vibes and instrumentation make this feel larger than life, with a tone of elegance/aristocracy. It immediately hits you within the first few seconds of “The Motherland” and reaches a glowing pinnacle with the choir that closes out “The Exile.” Dianne van Giersbergen’s focus on more classical singing also lends to this feeling as well, exuding a confident but not over-the-top bombastic sound. As with Chapter I, she is completely immersed in the character of Anastasia Romanova, and her vocals genuinely reflect a variety of emotions, most notably “The Exile,” as Romanova begs for her life. It’s occasionally like listening to a musical version of a short story, with some cinematic flair that makes each track immediately resonate with the listener, and the band’s ability to blend progressive structures into a more digestible tone is still very admirable.

The middle segment of the over-arching ANN concept not only manages to keep to the high marks of the first one, but succeeds in making it sound unique when listened to alongside it. It packs a lot of emotion into its 20-ish minutes, but it’s the type that should be savored in their ability to tell a great and impactful story. ANN seems to become even more special with each new release, and sets up anticipation for a finale that delivers the same level of engrossing storytelling and progressive metal magic.

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