A concept album by the Norwegian black metal band Ancient, released 1996.

The concept behind all this is, of course, Vampire: the Masquerade, the original and (arguably) the best of the cWOD table-top role playing games. (In nWOD, Changeling: the Lost is king of the hill, and can be summarised in the sentence, "fairies are fucking terrifying.") This makes it one of the nerdiest heavy metal albums extant, alongside Blind Guardian and "Nightfall on Middle Earth" which is based on the Silmarillion, and Bolt Thrower's "Realm of Chaos / Slaves to Darkness" which is based on Warhammer 40,000. If you didn't already work it out, there's a huge overlap between headbangers and gamers.

Most non-gamer metalheads know the album, though, as the source of the truly fularious video to the song "Lilith's Embrace." In it, Kaiaphas, the singer, wearing a pair of leather trousers and plastic vampire fangs creeps out of a forest in a deliberately uncomfortable manner, lunches up on Kimberley Goss (keyboards) and her forearm, before the guitarist (Aphazel), wearing a bedsheet, calls down damnation upon him. In between all of this there's a very stoned looking woman dancing behind a cage with candles on it, and a man in green face paint performing cunnilingus on the Invisible Woman, as well as standard black metal shots of the band in a forest at night being grim and frostbitten.

And actually, all the buffoonery aside, it's a rather good album. It's the best one Ancient ever did. The first one was too ragged and suffered from deliberately necro production, and "God Loves The Dead" onwards was devoid of riffage and had keys wanking everywhere. This one cut the balance between being raw and being too lush and symphonic. There are keys but they don't dominate everything, and the guitars have a nice buzzsaw tone to them. It's also riff driven; they don't fill every conceivable space with blast beats like a lot of their countrymen did, although that's not to say that blast beats are completely absent. Kaiaphas also has one of the best black metal voices on this album that you'll hear in a long time. It's screechy and inhuman and not at all blurty. He also manages to avoid going into death grunts as well.

Also, it's not entirely about VTM. Track five, "At the Infernal Portal," is a rendition of canto III of Dante's Inferno. It's rather cool. Also, the last track, "Homage to Pan" is about what it sounds like. Because no black metal album is complete without a spot of paganism, natch.

In many ways, I suppose this album was a product of its time. Back in 1996 both black metal and VTM were rather cult interests, if you will. VTM (and all the other cWOD games, for that matter) were amongst the first table-top role-players where the players were the monsters. Similarly, the pussification of vampires had not yet got into any form of swing (thank fuck) and they still were blood-crazed dangers to life and limb - much like the popular image of black metal, really. After all, this was the same scene who had one bloke shoot himself in the head, leave a suicide note reading, "excuse all the blood," and then in which pictures of his suicide found their way onto an album cover. It was also the same scene characterised by church-burning and indiscriminate murder as well (RIP Euronymous). And Ancient were a part of this scene (although didn't indulge in the same excesses as Emperor and Mayhem and Thorns).

I don't know if VTM players have ever done anything quite on the same scale, but I have seen VTM larpers in action. It is strangely hilarious to watch grown men and women flouncing round with plastic teeth in plotting against each other.

So, I suppose I should leave you with some track recommendations off the album then. Well, "Lilith's Embrace" of course, but also "The Curse" and "Homage to Pan" are pretty good, as is "Disciplines of Caine." The entire album, however, should suitably terrify your friendly neighbourhood twihards.