(Andy Synn reviews the eagerly anticipated new album by the French black metal band Antaeus.)
With so much being written recently about the molten new release (is it an EP? is it an album?) by a certain bunch of radical French firebrands, it would be easy, all too easy, to overlook what some of their countrymen are doing.
Which would be a mistake of practically biblical proportions, because this week sees the long-awaited release of Condemnation, the fourth album from Satanic savages Antaeus.
Despite the ten-year gap since their last album, 2006’s monstrous Blood Libels, one listen should be all it takes to convince you that Antaeus are still as utterly merciless and inhumanly intense as ever. And with the drum throne for this album filled by the one-man barrage of Menthor (also of Enthroned and Nightbringer, among others), it should come as no surprise to learn that the level of blastronomic engorgement remains brutally extreme throughout.
At only nine songs (one of which is the aptly-named 51-second intro track, “Something Wicked This Way Comes”) and just over forty-one minutes long, Condemnation is one lean, mean, murder-machine of an album, with only the occasional moment of ominous, oppressive calm (such as occurs during the second half of “End of Days”) to provide respite from the roiling, boiling chaos.
Songs like “Shadow Fires” and the pulverising title-track, for example, literally pulsate with dark intent, a veritable orgy of ravenous riffs blazing like black flame over the top of Menthor’s tooth-rattling, industrial-strength drumming, while the eight-minute “Flesh Ritual” is one unrelentingly grim and uncompromising slab of pure sonic savagery and vitriol, the torrent of lunatic blastery only broken by the song’s occasional transformation into a humongous, heaving doom-beast.
Unsurprisingly, every single track on Condemnation is an absolutely monstrous affair. Whether it’s the surging, scything riffery of “Angels of Despair” and “Symmetry of Strangers”, or the sadistic grooves and apoplectic intensity of the climatic “Abeyance”, the band never scrimp on the extremity, and it’s probably worth recommending that this album be kept well away from pregnant women and the elderly, as MkM’s vocals alone are practically capable of stripping paint from a hundred yards, so I shudder to think what horrors they’d inflict upon the unborn.
There are doubtless going to be a few lost souls who criticise this album for not adding anything new to the Black Metal zeitgeist. And while that’s true to an extent, such accusations miss the point entirely.
Because this isn’t an album designed to redefine Black Metal (though I’ve got a column coming up later this week that goes into the problematic issue of “defining” Black Metal, so keep your eyes open for that), or to expand its sound or its reach.
It’s an album dedicated solely to reasserting the band’s own superiority and to refining the purity of their blood-soaked and blasphemous vision.
Trust me on this. I’ve seen enough also-rans and never-weres in my time, the endless parade of bands who may have the aesthetic and the basic sound of Black Metal down, but who are utterly hollow inside, without any true fire or darkness in their souls, to be able to tell pretty well whether a band truly have the right drive and the right passion, or whether they’re simply going through the motions.
And Antaeus are as real, and as remorseless, in their pursuit of blackened perfection as they come.