(In this post Andy Synn reviews the new album from Norway’s Antestor — a band whose previous albums were the subject of a SYNN REPORT and who had the good taste to use a painting by Zdzisław Beksiński for their album cover.)
Yes. Yes. A thousand times yes. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Through years of strife and sorrow, we’ve remained vigilant for Antestor’s return and now finally… the time is here.
The logical progression of the blackened direction that ruled The Forsaken, Antestor’s latest manages to incorporate elements of all their previous records into a cohesive whole, in a perfect synthesis of their doomy past and their pitch-black future. Heavier, sharper, and more refined throughout, there’s a seamless mixing of the old and the new, with every member putting his own authoritative stamp on the individual performances.
To give you some idea of how to situate this album in your mind, think of the more aggressive assault of Dark Funeral, mixed with the more technical and atmospheric playing of Dark Fortress, and you’ll be in the right ballpark. But this is an Antestor album through and through, with all the clever nuances and subtle undercurrents we’ve come to expect, and in no way derivative of anyone else. I merely make the comparison to put you in the right frame of mind, oh dear reader.
‘Treacherous Domain’ begins with a doomy intro that hearkens back to the Martyrium days, pulverisingly heavy guitars and hammerhead drumming building the tension to the breaking point, before the dam cracks under the pressure of the track’s seething, blackened onslaught. Accentuating the scalding aggression is the proggier vibe the band flirted with on The Forsaken, now fully and more artfully integrated, complete with subtle clean backing vocals. The dizzying solo work which the group also first unveiled on The Forsaken now flows seamlessly from within the song itself, adding a mesmerising new facet to the band’s sound.
“Unchained” continues the assault, piling on the intensity with riff after riff of scorching fury, fuelled by Jo Henning Borven’s immaculate drumming. Stepping into shoes last filled by the inimitable Hellhammer can’t be an easy thing to do, but his high-velocity kick patterns and laser-guided stick work never fail to impress. The unexpected clean vocals here have a strong Pink Floyd feel to them, a restrained and melancholic majesty, once again leaving you with the feeling that the band really took the time to make sure that ALL of the elements of their sonic signature were simpatico this time around – the flow from malevolence to melody, and back again, feels completely natural and organic.
The opening of “In Solitude” is one of those pure Antestor-ian moments, their signature riff style and intricate drumming building to a crescendo of pulse-pounding blastbeats and Ronny Hansen’s snarling, yet crystal-clear, vocal delivery. Slinky riff arrangements and cutting tremolo melodies – instantly recognisable as distinctive Antestor trademarks – armour the song with irrepressible metallic power, as it races, barely pausing for breath, at breakneck speed towards its soaring penultimate solo and explosive climactic bars.
The oddly haunting, archaic melody that opens “The Kindling” lulls the listener into a deceptive calm, one quickly shattered by the oncoming firestorm of icy brimstone fury. Hansen’s vocals are at their most vicious and untamed, while the rest of the band attack their instruments with palpable, frenzied conviction. Linear and propulsive, it twists and turns through a series of menacing groove riffs, monstrous death vocals, clever interjections of symphonic keyboard textures, and passages of almost inhuman blast-work, before the song concludes in a return to its icily emotive acoustic refrain.
The moody opening of “Remnants” is quickly washed away by a tidal wave of blast-furnace metal, which develops into a harsh, angular pounding rhythm that would sit well on any Gorgoroth album. Unrelenting and unwaveringly aggressive for its first 3 minutes of life, it suddenly (and cleverly) transitions into an ominous second half of brooding doom and gallows-wrought discordance, accented by strangely captivating moments of twisted, uncomfortable ambience, with just enough blackened flavour to show its teeth are still sharp.
The melding of classically composed acoustic melody and metallic force on “All Towers Must Fall” serves as a great representative of Antestor’s highly individual take on black metal, mixing modernised power and aggression with a wealth of classical and folk-derived influences. An audacious, spiralling lead guitar part weaves in and out of the track’s tapestry of tremolo riffage, before plunging into darker waters of bleak keyboard orchestration and slow-burning blackened doom. Treading the line between haunting melancholy and merciless fury, the band balance heavy, complex drum parts with an undercurrent of primordial melody, and Hansen’s emotive, wounded roar.
The ravenous blasting frenzy of ‘Torn Apart’ is the yin to its predecessor’s yang, going straight for the jugular right from the start. Touches of callous, incisive melody brood with dark promise, while injections of stomping, death metal guitars and whispering keyboard melodies add further weapons to the track’s deadly arsenal. Even at its most controlled and monolithic the song retains an undercurrent of barely suppressed antagonism, its dark, depressive surface barely concealing the unrepentant rage within.
The unusual, baroque instrumental strains of “Tilflukt” bring a taut and tense atmosphere to the album, cleverly echoing and reflecting the dark-ages atmosphere that has coloured the record so far. The more I think about it, in fact, the more this song, and the similarly archaic roots that permeate the album, remind me of Windir in their prime – updating old sounds for a younger generation, and creating something new and fresh in the process.
The opening riff of ‘Benighted’ is a slab of prime death metal beef, twisting and turning like a viper, while the drums pound away, hammer to anvil, forging the song’s brutal metallic backbone. The interplay between nuanced lead melody and heavy rhythmic guitar-work is exemplary, occasionally uniting in a devastating stream of pure tremolo’d aggression. A short diversion of glacial keyboards manages to create an epic, icy atmosphere, punctuated by stabs of distorted guitar and haunting, primal vocals, juxtaposed against a conclusion of jagged, rending guitars and snarling, venom-laced vocals.
The album culminates with ‘Morkets Grode’, which marries a darkly primitive vibe to a stainless steel core of melodic black metal, with echoes of early Satyricon, powered up and bristling with righteous fury. Its heart-racing intensity, abrasive sandstorm of scything guitars, and precision deployment of bombastic, blasting drums, ends the album in unforgettable fashion, culminating in a mesmerising, haunting acoustic finale.
Seven years is a long time to wait. But Omen stands as testament to that time being well-spent, the band patiently refining their approach, sharpening their skills and summoning all of their courage and inner fire. It’s clear that Antestor have poured their all into this record, physically and emotionally, learning from their past successes and failures, in order to craft an album of impressive depth and detail, with a volcanic core of molten metal passion.
It’s amazing to feel that, after all these years, our faith (no pun intended) in the band has finally been rewarded. A simply stunning resurrection.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Omen is out now and can be ordered from Bombwork Records of Nordic Mission. It’s also available on iTunes and Amazon mp3. Antestor web links are below, and after those you’ll find three songs.