Review Summary: Black Metal genius marred by small moments of confusion.
Have you ever had that feeling of mental division in which it seems like there is an angel on one shoulder and a demon on another? If not, I’m sure that you have undoubtedly seen movies or TV shows in which this is portrayed, with the demon whispering to do the “bad” thing, and the angel begging for you to do the “good” thing. Well, this is sort of the feeling which Norwegian “Black” Metal band Antestor is going through. You see, I put an emphasis on the “black” because Antestor is, contrary to other bands, Christian. It’s like putting George Bush at the same dinner table with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the two simply do not go together. It’s contradiction after contradiction, but yet it is still quite something to sit back and look at. It’s this sort of awkward state of beliefs and emotions which makes The Forsaken
such a brilliant release, but all the while it has it’s own little gripes and demons which hinders it from becoming the black metal landmark which it certainly is capable of being.
Antestor is quite an interesting band. Beginning their career in 1991, they first played a mix of death metal and doom metal which didn’t really garner them much attention. In their entire 17 years of existence, Antestor has released a total of 3 full length CD’s. The latest of these albums is 2005’s The Forsaken
, which completely changes the sound of Antestor from this doom/death metal mixture to black metal, features such talent as renowned black metal drummer Hellhammer (Mayhem, Gorgoroth, etc..). It’s interesting how Antestor has made this genre shift seem so smooth and so natural, because if one listens to The Forsaken
you would think that they have been playing this style for years, it’s that good.
Their sound is laden with some serious guitar melodies, as well as some epic moments in which female vocals and instruments along the lines of organs and pianos just whisk the listener away high into the mountains featured on the album cover. The lyrics talk about this struggle of good and evil, heaven and hell, God and Satan. As is evident on the (beautiful) cover artwork, we see a small child with one hand grasped by and angel and the other grasped by the grim reaper, showcasing quite the opposite spectrums of feelings. It’s interesting to see a direct correlation between the lyrical content and what is showcased on artwork throughout the album packaging; it adds a sense of connection and visualization of their message. However, once you get past staring at the captivating cover art, there is still 45 minutes of music which awaits you.
Right off the bat you are hit with a song which completely captures what this album is all about. A beautiful and sorrowful female voice takes the song off like a missile, a perfect way to begin the album before the chaos follows. It’s this attention to atmosphere and mood which gives me a sense of purpose to what is going on in each song. It feels as if the entire album is tied together in some way by these moments of serenity. The jump from each of these moments is divided by the heavier tracks of the album, with “Raade”, “Vale Of Tears”, and “Mitt Hjerte” as the pillars above the dark cloud. Brilliantly composed, these songs are all highlights of the album and stand out drastically when compared to the rest. Whether it’s the use of non-standard black metal instruments, the female vocals, or the epic stature of the song, it really lingers in your mind over much of what else is performed here.
What else is performed here, though, is generally well written and well executed. The melodic guitars really make this album what it is, and that shows in most of the songs. The calm melody during “Vale Of Tears” is simply amazing, and it drives the song forward from that point onward. The guitars also let off a few really, really awesome solos that add tons of variety and deviate from your standard black metal formula. The solos in “The Return” and “The Crown I Carry” are particularly good. What I’m getting at here is that the guitar melodies and riffs are simply amazing, something which I really like to see, especially in black metal albums. For those of you who know what kind of music I like, you know that nothing pleases me more than a really original and breathtaking guitar riff. Let’s just say that my breath was taken away on multiple occasions during this album.
It’s not just the guitars which are the driving force here, either. First off, you have the vocals which are quite simply off the charts. Vocalist Vrede really knows what he’s doing with his black metal scream, and it’s one of the better ones I have heard in a while. He’s not afraid to vary pitches; from some really drawn out and high pitched screams to lower, more guttural growls, it is all worked into the music here. Also used is a more interesting spoken voice which is used for atmospheric purposes in some of the songs. During “Vale Of Tears” it works out great as a way to lead the song into it’s full momentum. The drumming is also good, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from Hellhammer. He uses his double bass a lot and to good effect, and he incorporates a nice fill on multiple occasions to hide the transitions between riffs. The amazing sound of these instruments is partly due to the production, which is flat out awesome for a black metal album. Every instrument is audible and nothing stands out where it shouldn’t. It’s nice for once to hear everything which is going on with each instrument; I hope that other bands put all this modern technology to good use in the future.
Things with The Forsaken
, though, are too good to be true. Hidden beneath these moments of grandeur and beauty are these little things which simply drive me crazy each time I listen to this album. For one, the keyboard use is simply comical at some points. While the pianos and organs are used to good effect, the regular electric keyboard seems to go off on its own sometimes. The keyboard effect which plays during much of “The Crown I Carry” is nothing short of cheesy, dumb, and completely stupid. It has no place being in that song and nearly kills the entire thing. I’m not sure what Antestor was thinking there, but it simply sounds terrible. Also, during the latter portion of the album a few of the songs seem to just slip by without contributing to the album. It’s like you go from “Vale Of Tears” right to “Mitt Hjerte”, completely bypassing “The Return” and “As I Die”. Sure, these songs alone are good, but compared to some of the other songs here they don’t really compete well.
All in all, the positives about this album completely overshadow the negatives. Sure, there are a few things about this album which get on my nerves (get those GOD DAMN keyboards out of “The Crown I Carry”!!!), but minute for minute, song for song, The Forsaken
is a melodic black metal album which goes drastically under the radar. The cover alone is enough to make someone buy it, but the music simply makes the deal sweeter. With the amazing melodies and solos coursing through my mind like a virus, I pretty much forgot that this band was Christian. I thought that aspect of Antestor would be a minus, especially for a black metal album, but as the last searing guitar chords of “Mitt Hjerte” silence across the cold, bitter landscape of my mind, I could honestly care less.