It’s not uncommon for bands and labels to re-release older records. It’s less common, but still not unheard-of, for bands to re-record older songs in a way that burnishes their sound or updates them in other ways. Sometimes these things work, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes die-hard fans will grab up re-releases and re-recordings for the sake of having a complete collection, or because they’re so die-hard that they’ll reflexively seize on anything their idols might do, even if the music sounds like a relic of a lost age. For more discerning and less slavish listeners, whether such projects are worth the time (and money) depends on how well the music has held up over the passing years.
The Bay Area band Antagony, who carved their place in the history books of metal over the decade from 1999 to 2009, have embarked on just such a revival project. Older, wiser, and (it must be said) more skilled as performers, the original line-up has come back together again after a decade spent in other projects since Antagony’s disbanding. On their new album Ashes, they’ve re-recorded a selection of tracks that all date back to demos and EPs released from 1998-2000, plus one new song that shares the title of the album. Having listened to the album (which will be released on May 24th), the verdict for this writer isn’t a close call: This is one of those revival projects that is an extravagant success.
Antagony’s place in the history books is commonly summed up as the band that became one of the pioneers (arguably the pioneer) of deathcore, ushering in an amalgam of death metal, grind, and hardcore that eventually became wildly popular and spawned the creation of hundreds of bands around the world (a process that hasn’t ended, even today). Even after Antagony disbanded, the members continued to make their mark through such other groups as Oblivion, All Shall Perish, Hacksaw to the Throat, Suffokate, Oblige, Misericordiam, Connoisseur, and more.
Listening to the songs on Ashes today, what’s striking is how different they are from what most metalheads would associate with the deathcore genre today. Granted, the people in the Antagony of 2019 have a level of instrumental skill and experience far greater than you’ll find in the vast majority of deathcore bands who’ve formed over the last 15 or 20 years, and greater than their own skill even a decade ago when they dissolved. But it’s not just the often astonishing proficiency of the execution on display in these songs that vividly distinguishes them from the common tropes of the deathcore genre.
First and foremost, the music sounds like the product of people in the throes of explosive and adventurous creativity. Thinking back about what was going on in the metal scenes surrounding these dudes 20 years ago when most of the songs on Ashes were first written, it might not go too far to call the music experimental. And it still sounds that way today.
Yes, some of these tracks include monumental, pile-driving breakdowns, heavy and hard enough to crack the pavement — but most of them don’t, and even the ones that do have a whole lot more going on within them than brute-force pulverization. In fact, none of the songs follows anything resembling a straight line. There are distinct motifs within the tracks that hold them together, but they’re genuinely labyrinthine, loaded to the brim with sharply changing tempos, moods, and stylistic flourishes. As a listener, you’re constantly driven through hair-pin turns, unsure of what’s around the curve — sometimes even reaching dead stops and then pivoting back the way you came, or falling off into an abyss.
You’ll encounter plenty of absolutely vicious barrages of sound, a combination of high-speed drum bludgeoning, hammering or savagely seething riffs, blaring chords, and unhinged vocal intensity. Without warning, the music might erupt in explosive grindcore frenzies or shift into methodical, jackhammering demolition jobs. But the music is also laced with freakish flurries of string torture, angular, darting notes, and bursts of swirling melody.
The music soars to summits of feverish lunacy, but around some of the band’s hairpin turns they’ll collapse the songs into a crawling or lumbering cadence overlaid with slow, groaning chords laden with misery or stricken with plague — or creating a display of gloomy grandeur mixed with febrile leads that channel agony. The sounds of dismal moodiness and utter hopelessness inhabit some of these songs, as well as passages that are haunting.
The ever-changing nature of the songs extends to the vocals, which shift without warning from monstrous roars to wrenching, throat-shredding shrieks, from crazed yells and screams to gruesome gurgling and growling. It’s all damned intense, too.
Not surprisingly, the longest songs on the album are the most head-spinning in their diversity, simply because they give Antagony more room to maneuver. One of those, “Kip and Mitch“, is the track we’re premiering today, as the band continue to roll out one new song per week leading up to the album’s release date. Slow, haunting guitar reverberations join together to create a doleful harmony. A few moody bass notes form the prelude to agonized vocals and increasingly distraught and destructive instrumentals, building toward rampant percussive pounding, fusillades of brutalizing double-bass, and spurts of freakish fretwork. The music boils with demented extremity, escalating to heights of lunacy — but just as quickly subsiding into earthquaking doom stomps and screams of extravagant agony, and then just as quickly speeds up into a torrent of rapidly-skittering and boiling guitar work, and vicious grinding.
Here’s a comment from Antagony’s Nick Vasallo (also Oblivion) about what led to this new album:
“These songs are 20+ years old. Written in our bedrooms and garages. We were so young…so there is a raw and fresh energy within these songs. Antagony wasn’t trying to fit in a genre; we just wanted to write a sick part that would flow into another sick part. I was just getting into extreme metal so death metal, grindcore, hardcore, doom, slam, and metalcore were all on the same playing field. We recorded and released these songs as demos and EPs from 1998-2000. But they never got the proper production. It always bothered us, like an itch that never got scratched. Relearning and transcribing all these old songs was like sifting through forgotten memories. At the end I decided to write a new song called ‘Ashes’ to symbolize the reawakening of Antagony.”
And here are the names of the people (and their vintages with the band) who came back together again to make this album:
Nick Vasallo – guitar (1998-2007, 2019-) bass (2008-2009) vocals (1998-2009, 2019-)
Ben Orum – guitar (1998-2004, 2019-) vocals (1998-2003)
Carlos Saldana – bass guitar (1998-2001) vocals (2004-2009, 2019-)
Bray Almini – bass (2002-2004, 2019-)
Luis Martinez – drums (2008-2009, 2019-)
Look for a few more songs from Ashes each week between now and May 24. And if you can make it to the band’s comeback show in Oakland on that night, where they’ll be joined by Sworn Vengeance, Cyborg Octopus Splattered Logistic Slaughter Anisoptera, Asterion, and Black Water Birth, you can pick up tickets here:
Ashes was produced by Nick Vasallo and Zack Ohren. It was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Zack Ohren at Sharkbite Studios in Oakland on February 17th, 2019, and the artwork was created by Michael Alvarez and Chuck Ennis. Brandon Hunt contributed guest vocals.
1.A Killing 02:56
2.Useless Fake 00:58
4.Kip and Mitch 05:11
5.End of the Circle 02:46
6.The Last Fall 03:17
7.Internal Itch 01:49
8.The Mystery That Haunts You 05:02
10.Undo This World 04:46