(In this post, guest writer Graffiti Petey provides a look back at California’s Antagony.)
Metalhead A: “Suicide Silence. White Chapel. All Shall Perish. Job for a Cowboy.”
Metalhead B: “Yup, heard of all these bands.”
A: “How about Despised Icon? Animosity?”
B: “Yeah, I think I remember them.”
A: “Okay, what about ANTAGONY?”
Chances are if you are reading this you have never heard about the seminal Bay Area-based metal band–Antagony (circa 1999-2009). Their story is a tragic account of bad timing and bad luck. Why is this band still relevant? Well, it’s been almost 4 years since they disbanded but their loyal fanbase is still passionate about what they did and what they could have been. To put it simply: Antagony mixed elements of Death/Grind and Hardcore before all of the aforementioned bands. Now you know this. If you are familiar with Hollywood tragedies, a good analogy would be River Phoenix: an experienced actor who influenced his generation but never quite hit stardom. After his untimely death–fellow actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, and his brother Joaquin have gone on to super-stardom. This is the pattern we’ll see with Antagony.
Reading over Antagony’s past members is like reading a who’s who in the modern metal scene. The thirteen former members of Antagony have gone on to such bands as Oblivion, All Shall Perish, Hacksaw to the Throat, Suffokate, Oblige, Misericordiam, and more. You may be asking yourselves—how did all of these bands gain more recognition than their originator? The answer to that is a fateful combination of bad luck and bad timing, as we’ll discuss during the chronological analysis of the band history.
The single biggest factor that destroyed this band’s potential to hit the big time was lack of consistency. If you have a look at their Facebook page you can see that the band went through eleven lineup changes. Eleven. Most bands that go through a single lineup change eventually break up. This constant reforming of a unit halts progress and can drastically change the chemistry of a band.
For a good example of how the band sounded at an early stage here is their rendition of Sepultura’s “Propaganda”. Notice how they mix elements of Death/Grind and Hardcore at such an early point in the genre (2000). This theme of mixing is going to become a prominent part in their musical development.
The next example is a refined recording of a song they wrote and released that same year - “End of the Circle”. The song jumps from Death Metal to breakdowns to Slam Metal to crazy Grind. The vocals are either high-pitched screaming or death growled. You can hear the true genesis of what would become dubbed as “Deathcore“—a hugely successful metal genre that has sparked hundreds of copycat bands across the world. And who gets credit for this genre? Unfortunately, not Antagony.
Their first album, See Through These Eyes, was released in 2001. Founder/lead singer/songwriter of the band, Nick Vasallo, says the album was “well praised by critics, fans, and fellow bands.” Unfortunately, most of the online review sites are extinct, but this single review survived. The author described the album as “Death-Grind [and Hardcore] diversity with very high screaming intermixed with pretty deep guttural roars..well-done and composed with Metal intricate song structures.” Sound familiar? These are the major tenets of the Deathcore genre.
Following the release of See…, the group went on a U.S. tour to promote the album. They brought along supporting acts End of All and Boof. And here comes the next factor that greatly affected Antagony’s potential public success: bad timing. Following the successful tour — founding members Ben Orum and Carlos Saldana left the group. Ben Orum joined members of Boof and End of All to form the hugely successful deathcore band All Shall Perish. When I asked Vasallo about his thoughts on that he replied with: “perfect timing and hard work on their part. I’m extremely proud of them.” In this author’s opinion, it doesn’t take a genius to see — that it would have been a painful thing to witness your friends going on to become highly successful while you struggle to rebuild a band that planted the seed to a whole movement.
Vasallo was finally able to rebuild the band and, 4 years later (an eternity in today’s music scene) in 2005, Antagony released Rebirth – their most critically-acclaimed album to date. It received a 8.6/10 from MetalReview.com, higher than any Deathcore release. It was deemed more “epic” and something that “stood apart” from the other bands of the genre by Teeth of the Divine, and that reviewer even stated “Abacus Recordings, Lifeforce, Nuclear Blast and Metal Blade” should sign them immediately. Bands like Last House on the Left have called this album the “most influential album” of the genre. So…what happened? What went wrong?
IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN RELEASED IN 2002 when the material was being written!!! My belief is that if Antagony had not experienced the 3 lineup changes in between See Through These Eyes and Rebirth this article would not need to be written. Because Antagony would have made it. They would be among the so-called “fathers of Deathcore.” Timing is everything.
I leave you now with Antagony’s final album, Days of Night, released by Deepsend Records in 2008. Nick Vasallo calls it “my favorite of all the albums. It summarizes everything I’ve had to say in that band. I hate the label Deathcore and this was a conscious attempt to distance us from that whole scene.” It’s safe to say you probably have never heard this album either. Lucky for you it is up for streaming (along with their whole discography!) on their Bandcamp page. The band has recently released all of their recordings–both unreleased and previously released “for the fans due to popular demand.” I highly recommend you download all of their music and take a moment to listen to the true fathers of Deathcore, despite how the band may feel about that label.
There is a happy ending though! There is talk of a 10-year documentary of the band that chronicles their entire existence. Also, founding members of Antagony — Nick Vasallo and Ben Orum — are together again in the fast-rising death metal group Oblivion. Vasallo also became a classical music composer and professor; you can check out his solo work at nickvasallo.com