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Greetings! My name is Matthew, and I love to listen to all types of metal. I'm a high school English teacher and aspiring writer. I also write reviews for the Metal Utopia webzine!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Antestor - "Omen" Review

Antestor - Omen
Bombworks Records
Genre:  Melodic black metal


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Ronny Hansen - Vocals
Lars Stokstad - Guitars, backing vocals
Robert Bordevik - Lead guitars, backing vocals
Nickolas Main Henriksen - Keyboards
Jo Henning Børven - Drums
Erik Normann Aanonsen - Electric bass, acoustic guitar, double bass, Ebow
Thor Georg Buer - Guitars

         There is nothing more satisfying than to sit down and to write a review about a band that is steeped in history.  Antestor, which means “call to witness” in Latin, released their first demo under the moniker Crush Evil in 1990.  Their path onward was difficult—the band received death threats because of their Christian beliefs, Martyrium didn’t see a proper release until years later, and The Return of the Black Death was dropped from Cacophonous records when the label found out that Antestor held beliefs different from a typical black metal band.  In 2005, Antestor returned to the studio with a vengeance and recorded The Forsaken, a legendary melodic black metal album that has become one of the pillars of Norwegian metal.  Indeed, critics only needed to realize that Hellhammer from Mayhem played drums for the recording of the album in order to understand the legend that Antestor has become.  Perhaps it was an ironic twist of fate, but one that acknowledged the skill and prowess of the band.
            Then came an undefined hiatus and a legion of fans waiting in growing silence as one by one we began to doubt the return of Antestor.  Would they come back, and if so, how would that return look?  Our questions have been answered with Omen, an album that borrows from the sounds of The Forsaken while forging into new territory for the band.  On a whole, fewer melodic elements grace the album, and clean singing takes a more prominent role than it has in the past.  The album is shadowy and foreboding, a monolith heralding these dark days and the ones to come.  And yet, through the darkness of pain, solitude, and eternal longing, one can see a small flame flickering, a beacon of hope in the gloom.

            Omen opens with a few ominous noises that grab the listener’s attention and don’t let go as “Treacherous Domain” launches into a crunchy guitar riff.  The riff is almost indicative of something that A Hill to Die Upon would write, and even a nod to the days of Martyrium.  But then the pace quickens and Ronny Hansen joins in with his high-pitched shrieking.  The drums roll along underneath, unrelenting, and towards the end of the song the listener gets a first glimpse at a new style of sung vocals.  A guitar solo peals through the air, as technical and savvy as any on The Forsaken, and then a driving guitar riff links back into more fretwork.  One of the most interesting songs on Omen is “The Kindling.”  It begins with what sounds like a fog horn and a mid-paced tempo, but soon kicks things up a notch as the band increases the pace.   The riff that serves as a basis for the song is stylistically reminiscent of “Vale of Tears.”  The song ends with an acoustic outro framed by voices and a gust of wind, which gives the listener chills. “All Towers Must Fall” should please the fan-boy in all of us—the onslaught is furious, the melody is infectious, and the vocals are varied.  Antestor experiments with a type of “shouted” vocal that is often used in folk metal, and it works well here.  The token instrumental on the album is “Tilflukt,” and at first it may seem a bit out of place.  It isn’t an ordinary instrumental, which is refreshing.  There is a depth to this piece of music that may first escape you.  But as you listen carefully to the haunting melodies, you will be transported to another world.  Honestly, the first thing that comes to mind is that this song would have worked well as a background piece to Frodo’s journey through Mordor (although perhaps that’s just because I have The Hobbit on my mind).  The album finale is “Mørkets Grøde,” a fierce song that rouses hope and determination within the human breast.  Spoken vocals serve to give the song an epic feel and furious drumming and nonstop guitars only augment this.  It’s almost as if Hansen pours more emotion into his vocals in this song, perhaps because it is in Norwegian.  But that makes sense; who wouldn’t sing better in their native tongue?  All in all, as “Mørkets Grøde” slowly fades out to the echoes of an acoustic guitar, one has the feeling that he has met with greatness.  Omen is an astounding album, not only for its musical acumen, but for its resonant imagery.
            But, as with any masterpiece forged by human hands, behind the luster of greatness there hide a few flaws.  I was disappointed by the lack of bass within the mix, as it seems that it exists only as an anchor at the low end of the chord.  Antestor should use this instrument to greater effect; and yet, this is typically a problem with most black metal bands.  No doubt I will not be the only one to criticize Antestor’s new form of clean vocals.  I appreciate it when a band steps out on a limb and tries something new.  However, I am not sure that these vocals entirely resonate with either the musical or lyrical themes of this album.  They fit well in time with the music; that is not the problem.  The problem is that they are distracting.  Of course, this is a matter of taste, so I am sure that some will disagree with me.  My other complaint is that overall there is less melodic instrumentation on Omen than on The Forsaken.  But as much as I wanted more keyboards in the mix, it’s easy to see why Antestor didn’t incorporate more melodic elements on this album.  As I mentioned, it’s a dark album, and cheerful-sounding melodies don’t really fit with most of what the band is trying to accomplish here.
            There is no doubt that Omen is one of the crowning musical achievements of this year.  There are some bands that simply know how to play music, and Antestor is one of these.  I pray that we do not have to wait as long for the next album—but even if we do, there is plenty in Omen to keep me enthralled for many months to come.  Even if you don’t share the band's ideology, you should at least give them the chance to grip your heart.  For I promise you:  once you experience this frigid Norwegian form of art, you won’t ever be entirely the same.

Overall rating:  9.2 out of 10.0 (Superior)
Musicianship:  9.5 out of 10.0 
Song structure:  9.0 out of 10.0
Album structure:  9.0 out of 10.0


How did I come up with my rating?  I rate the following categories:  musicianship, song structure, and album structure.  I then take an average of these three scores and come up with an overall rating.

1.0-2.9 (Poor:  musicianship is poor, song structures are haphazard, no directional flow)
3.0-4.9 (Good:  musicianship is sloppy, song structures are undeveloped, flow is hampered)
5.0-6.9 (Average:  musicianship is adequate, song structures are good, flow works most of the time)
7.0-8.9 (Excellent:  musicianship is very good, song structures are thought out, songs connect well)
9.0-9.9 (Superior:  musicianship is superb, song structures are varied, flow is almost flawless)

Note:  Ratings may be given in increments of 0.1 for a final score (rounded up) and 0.5 for individual category scores.  I will never give a rating of 10.0 because I do not believe that any one album can be "perfect," and the ratings at either end of the spectrum will be very few.

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