Back in 1998, a band named Antestor burst onto the scene with an amazing album on Cacaphonous Records called The Return of the Black Death. They had done some earlier recordings, but since they were not widely available, this was most people's first exposure to this talented band. The album, by many, is considered one of the classics in Christian metal and maybe even the best extreme metal albums ever, right alongside Horde's Hellig Usvart.
With that kind of background, the band seemed to have gone into hiding for about 6 years and many doubted they'd ever release anything again. Forturnately, the band picked up vocalist Ronny Hansen from Vaakevandring (R.I.P.), and has forged on. Another surprise is that the drumming on this EP and the upcoming full-length was done by the well-known, and well travelled drummer Jan Alex Blomberg, aka Hellhammer (Mayhem, Immortal, Kovenant, Arcturus, etc..). And needless to say, the drumming on this EP is absolutely killer.
First off, this review is on a promo I received from Endtime Productions, so I might be adding to this review once I receive the finished product. So, I won't really have any personal comments on packaging or lyrics aside from Endtime's descriptions, as I don't have those yet.
This fabulous disc starts off with the song "Rites of Death" (which is the only song on this EP that will appear on the upcoming full length, although this is a different mix from the full length version). The band wastes no time tearing into this song. If you have your volume turned way up when this song kicks in, you may scare some innocent bystander. This song is big and bad and absolutely blistering! Occasionally, they will pause for a nice soft guitar piece and maybe a bell tolling in the background, but then they will rip right back into the brutal guitars, blasting, and horrifying black metal shrieking. Vocally, Hansen is no step down from their previous vocalist, Martyr. The vocals throughout are top notch whether he is shrieking or growling. An occasional clean vocal may surface here and there as well, but it's always good stuff.
Now comes the strange part about this disc. The five songs are not all insane, heavy tracks. In fact, three of the songs are very mellow songs that could make the impatient person lose interest. Track two "Grief" and track three "Last Season" remind me a lot of the gorgeous instrumental sounds that we heard from Crimson Moonlight on their Eternal Emperor EP. Along with the beautiful piano, "Grief" includes some clean spoken vocals that express sadness for those who choose a life outside of Christ and how it only takes a second to turn to Him for eternal peace. The vocals on this song are unusual in that most black metal bands will stick to a haunting and dark feel, and the last lines here almost have a sentimental or longing feel to them. My guess is that the subject matter is the main reason for this. Nothing wrong with it, just a strange approach. Then, "Last Season" is an all instrumental track that has a flute that accompanies the soothing piano playing.
Track four, "Med Hevede Sverd" (With Raised Swords) makes the shift back to the heavy Antestor. Not quite as crazy as "Rites of Death", but a great extreme metal song. Hansen uses some trade off black vocals on this song that sound almost like a gurgling black metal style . Maybe that's not a good description, but it's gonna have to do. The song has it's slow moments as well with piano and "not so extreme" guitar solos before the blackness rears its head again. The last 45 seconds of this song is carried out with some pretty piano playing. That's the one cool thing about this band. They could care less what the black metal purist may think. They do whatever it takes to make the song the best it can be, and whether it's fast or slow or both, that's the way they compose it.
The final track "Det Tapte Liv" (The Lost Life) is an all keyboards and flute song that incoporates some very haunting clean vocals spoken in Norwegian. Very reminiscent of the clean vocals we heard on The Return of the Black Death. Great ending to this slightly over 18 minute album.
This new Antestor still retains that Antestor feel that we heard in the past. But after the passing of six years and with members coming and going, you are hearing what is essentially a different band with a different overall sound and approach. Regardless, of whether or not they sound the same really means nothing. This is excellent material and I could think of no better way for you to spend your money....at least until the full length arrives later this year (and that's a WHOLE different story!) These songs seriously get better with every listen. I have literally had a tough time finding the desire to listen to anything else this past week. Whether Antestor lays out a moving and hypnotizing instrumental, or whether they bring the goods in a shroud of blackness, this is a band that does it with all they've got. The only negatives that I can really think of are that the short length is torture on fans that have waited for so long and only receive 18 minutes for their patience. And also, the slow songs really break the flow of the album if you are in a mood to listen to nothing but the insane stuff. There is nothing wrong with the songs themselves, but the drastic style changes from one song to the next might make some demanding fans a little irritable.
On a side note, the first 1000 copies of this album will be presented in a limited edition black matte heavy paper box with a special heat-embossed black Antestor logo on top. The exclusive box is designed to also house the upcoming full length digipak. One more reason besides the great music to go out and buy this disc the first day it comes out in mid-April. (Review by Matt)