Review Summary: Hell's symphony.
Hailing from Washington D.C., Wythersake - a blackened symphonic death metal quartet - has finally released its full-length debut Antiquity
. After forming in 2016, the group took its time experimenting with various styles and textures, resulting in five different singles between 2018 and 2020 with nary a physical release. Their patience has rewarded listeners handsomely though, as Antiquity
feels less like the uncertain steps of a young band and more like a deliberate, calculated decision made by seasoned veterans. In blending the ferocity of metal's most extreme acts with sweeping melody and elegant piano - not to mention occasional mind-bending experimentation - Antiquity
offers us a swirling metallic concoction that is every bit as irresistable as it is nightmarish.
Wythersake waste little time establishing a bleak and oppressive atmosphere here, as the interlude 'Prediluvian' bursts open the gates of hell with an early dose of Gabriel Luis' death metal growls. His versatility as a singer is also immediately on display, as he subtly shifts from guttural screams to more of a deep, booming, and authoritative singing. Antiquity
makes a seamless transition from this introductory moment right into the meat of the record, commencing with the title track's barrage of percussion. At first it overwhelms us like a tidal wave - all drumming maniacal, unvaried, and machinegun-like - before a glisteningly clean thrash solo cuts a slit in the ceiling, allowing light to pour straight into a once jet black room. It's at this time that Wythersake also demonstrate their ability to organically grow and evolve moments within themselves, as the drumming takes on a more emphatic and purposeful role during the track's semi-melodic verses. Wythersake's constantly shifting dynamics aren't tied to any single moment, though, as 'The Advent' demonstrates with its dive into highly symphonic black metal, or in the way that the classical pianos really sparkle across the midsection of an otherwise befouled 'From a Serpent Spoken'. It's made clear from start to finish that Antiquity
is always in search of the next little wrinkle in its sound, grasping for some little thing to stand out and drive its hook straight into your ear.
As the record pummels onward with unflinching cruelty and subtle beauty, it avoids many of the pitfalls that ensnare many novel metal acts. First of all, there aren't any cheesy choruses on Antiquity
because the band always seems to be busy rounding a new corner. It's not the omission itself that is impressive, it's that Wythersake still manage to craft something stunning and highly engaging without relying on melodic repetition. Even when they come close to doing that - as we witness near the conclusion of 'Iniquity' - these moments reveal themselves as melodic surges more than designed refrains. Another aspect that contributes to their versatility and apparent knack for endless reformation is their guitar talent, which is never more evident than it is on 'Through Ritual We Manifest' - an 80s-era thrash song at heart where the solos soar to epic heights. Even a band with as much promise as Wythersake isn't totally immune to laying things on a bit too thick at times, and we find that out with the cliched, chapel hall choir ahh ahh
's that saturate a good bit of 'Through Ritual We Manifest' and sometimes even distract from the instrumental mastery on display. On a braoder scale, they could also stand to stray from the barrage-style of drumming more often than they do, as it causes sections of the album to blur together when they wouldn't have to. All things taken as a whole, though, missteps such as these are certainly neglibile by comparison - and by the time we reach Antiquity
's final phase, Wythersake prove they're up to the task of leaving you with an outstanding final impression.
After the mysterious exhale that is 'Lamentations', 'Feast Upon the Seraph Within' marks a return to thrashing riffs and black metal until the final minute shifts gears with an extensive keyboard outro which concludes with a brutal, terrifying cry. The penultimate 'Unto Light' is a tightly wound ball of energy that slowly unravels, from its bleak beginning until the moment when the drumming breaks down into something slower and more rhythmic as Luis indulges in one more rare moment of clean, tuneful singing that is somehow still majestic sounding; it's always as if he's singing the declarations of a king to his people, a God to his followers, or a demon to his tortured souls. All of that energy culminates in the towering curtain call, 'My Profane Goddess', which acts as a cumulative finale of sorts by wrapping all of Antiquity
's strengths into a roughly eight minute window. The best moments come when Wythersake reveal that they still have some tricks up there sleeves though: the multiple breathtaking pauses for ambient piano, the spoken word sections delivered so rhythmically that you'd think Gabriel Luis is reciting a ritualistic incantation, the beautifully operatic way he sings into the final seconds of the album - these are the things that elevate Antiquity
to levels seldom heard. It's an exhilerating and unpredictable ride, and one that's liable to leave you in a stunned, dizzied state by the time it's all over and the dust has finally settled.
Themes of religion and existence course throughout the veins of Antiquity
, and the album - instrumentally, atmospherically, and creatively - rises to the challenge of illustrating such profound concepts. Images of navigating Hell's fiery rivers are conjured regularly, and even promoted by the album's artwork. Don't mistake this for a run-of-the-mill symphonic metal album - the depth, variety, technical skill, songwriting complexity, and overall ambition here are in another league. This is one mammoth debut for Wythersake, and they've established themselves as an immediate force to be reckoned with. Close your eyes, click play, and feel the flames start to singe your soul.