It's already been ten years since Antaeus last album, 'Blood Libels' (and nine since their split 7"EP with Katharsis). In the meantime, there was the unfortunate death of LSK in 2013, MkM focusing on Aosoth and releasing a few amazing recordings ('III' is still one of the most interesting Black Metal records of the last decade), and recently releasing the great Mardröd EP too. I'm not too sure of what happened on Set's side though, but I think he didn't do much on the musical level during this time. Although the band has been playing live from time to time (with some new session members, I think VI and BST were involved for example), and they actually released just two years ago (via World Terror Committee) a live album of their set at the Wolf Throne fest 2013. And then suddenly around one month ago Norma Evangelium Diaboli announced a new album, which was absolutely unexpected.
Well, having followed Antaeus since their first album, and given the fact that I thought I would never listen to a new Antaeus recording again, I must admit my expectations for 'Condemnation' were quite high. I obviously didn't think they would come back with a bad album, cause I consider them people with good taste and absolute devotion for the genre, but you know, I was still hesitant on what I would find on this record, especially after such a beast as its predecessor was.
No matter how, I pre-ordered it on Noevida's site and impatiently waited until it finally appeared in my mailbox. Once I received it, the first thing standing out was the artwork, this time managed by Metaztasis. I must say I'm not fond of everything he has done (it depends a bit on the case and I don't like all those covers looking so similar), but in this one I really like both the idea of the broken stained glass window with the cross/knife and the band logo behind it, and how it was executed, in black and red and with a kind of modernist approach. I had seen it online when NoEvDia announced the record, but it actually looks way better on its physical form.
Finally focusing on the record it self, I must say I expected 'Condemnation' to follow the slight change of direction they had taken on 'Blood Libels', with a much more "orthodox" (or, in some sort, complex) way of doing things in comparison to the band's rawest first efforts. However, with a few listens I was glad to easily see some kind of a step backwards (in terms of sound and composition), with straighter and rawer songs that recover the old "Brutal Black" style of the band (as French magazines used to described the style back when they started). It's actually a very hateful recording without too many concessions nor compromises. It's full of straight and full-speed blastbeats (managed by Menthor, well known Portuguese drummer who has played for Necrosadist, Nightbringer, Bestia Arcana and Lvcifyre, among others) and Set's characteristic chainsaw guitars, without much experiments. Especially if one compares it with their predecessor, which could be equally fast but was more sinister and twisted. It only keeps some part of the diabolical melodies and glacial atmosphere of that record, but with a bigger similitude to 'De Principii Evagelikum' in terms of how they combine their classical furious "grinding" assault with second wave Black Metal darkness and some catchier parts.
If we take the first track of the record for example, "Shadow Fires", it's just pure Antaeus in the best form one could expect. There's only place for brutality and aggression, and the same happens with "Angles of Despair", not one single moment to take your breath. But the good thing is that they combine that with a few details and arrangements which always bring out a small extra, not allowing you to get bored. On the second song, "Flesh Ritual", or the one starting face B, the title-track (and my favorite of the record), they introduce some heavier and sinister tempos which combine amazingly well with the rest.
'Condemnation' also brings an improvement in certain parts of the sound production. Where 'Blood Libels' had a certain digital finishing, especially in the drums, which I guess is hard to avoid due to the speed of their songs, but also on the guitars, this time (I imagine that due to the stylistic step back) they have achieved a slightly more natural sound (I say slightly because the drums do still have some triggered end, mainly on the bass drum side). What really stands out this time is the bass; I don't think this instrument ever had as much presence on Antaeus previous recordings as it has now (and it had a lot on their previous album), and it gives a way heavier finishing to their sound. On the other side, guitars could have had some more presence on the mix, as when blastbeats appear (with the support of the bass), they are a bit displaced.
The return of darkness and evil is here. You won't find many bands in the current Black Metal scene playing this kind of agressive shit; do not expect anything fancy, only pure hatred and hyperspeed violence in the best possible way.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.