Agassiz metal musician takes home Juno win

Band ANCIIENTS wins for best metal/hard music album

An Agassiz resident was awarded a Juno over the weekend, but the long-haired, bearded guitarist was fast asleep in Vienna when the news broke.

Kenny Cook has lived in Agassiz since November and has been a a guitarist and vocalist in the metal band, ANCIIENTS since 2010. The band’s latest album, Voice of the Void, beat out albums from bands Archspire, Striker, METZ and Longhouse for metal/hard music album of the year at the Juno Awards in Vancouver Sunday night.

But Cook, along with fellow guitarist Brock MacInnes, bassist Aaron “Boon” Gustafson and drummer Mike Hannay, had booked a European tour long before they had found out about the nomination. And – not expecting to win – decided to sit out this year’s awards ceremony to perform for fans across Europe.

That’s how Cook found himself waking up in an Austrian hotel to missed calls and texts from family and friends, letting him know ANCIIENTS had taken home the Juno.

“Anytime you get recognized on that level, it’s definitely surprising especially for the type of music we make,” said Cook. “It’s never something you really think about… but it’s great to get that recognition and we’re all pretty honoured to be noticed like that.”

ANCIIENTS was born as a metal band, but three of its members were playing music together long before its conception. Once a rock band called Spread Eagle, the group disbanded in 2009 before coming back together to form ANCIIENTS. While the original drummer went another direction, Hannay joined the group, and a great Canadian metal band was formed.

On Facebook, the band’s biography describes its music as “somewhere between sheer, apocalyptic heaviness and precise riffing” combining “huge chords with mind-altering riffage that takes you on an unfamiliar trip” and lists musical influences like Morbid Angel, Steely Dan and Cannibal Corpse.

But Cook describes the band’s music as an approachable introduction to metal. ANCIIENTS instills its songs with a huge variety of musical styles, melodies and rhythms that make it easier to dive into for someone new to the genre.

“We incorporate a lot of different stuff into it, it’s not a single standard type of metal like thrash metal or death metal, we kind of incorporate as many different sounds into it as possible,” he said.

“We just try to keep it open-ended and not corner ourselves into one typical sound.”

For those who associate metal music with gore or violence, some of ANCIIENTS sounds might come as a surprise. While the lyrics and sounds can be somber and heavy, Cook said the music is often inspired by the band members’ surroundings.

“We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world so it’s pretty inspiring to think about how long that beauty has been around before we have, and how epic our surroundings really are,” he said. “We definitely get a lot of inspiration out of that and…we have a lot of rain so we spend more time inside working on the music.”

The band’s first album, Heart of Oak, was released in 2013 and quickly became critically acclaimed in the metal community, also earning a Juno nomination and a spot on the Polaris Music Prize long list. But Cook said the praise didn’t impact the creation of the band’s second, Juno-winning album.

“[Heart of Oak] was basically all for fun and just making ourselves happy. But when we started getting recognition from a lot of people, saying ‘what you’re doing is awesome,’ [we] didn’t want to make something worse,” he said. “You can try and write something to please someone else but it’s not going to be an honest piece of work.”

“We enjoy it, and if it sounds good to us that’s really all that matters.”

It was that attitude that may have helped Voice of the Void take home the big win. Described on ANCIIENTS’ website as a ‘heavier and harder hitting album’ with ‘mind-melting, frenetic guitar work,’ the band’s sophomore album was as well-received as its first.

For anyone who’s new to metal music, Cook said it can take time to gain an appreciation for the genre.

“It’s something that you have to give more than one chance. It’s probably something that would sound pretty abrasive at first, but the more you kind of dig into it and see it for what it is… it’s still music and it still takes a lot of work to make.”

Cook and his bandmates are still on tour in Europe, but the Juno-winner will soon return to Agassiz where he lives with his wife Heather and three-year-old son Charlie. Even with a big win under his belt, Cook said he’ll soon be back to his day job, teaching guitar in Abbotsford and Mission.

“We all still have to work, we’re not Justin Bieber!” he said with a laugh.

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