“The old world is consumed like parchment in the flames.
The Earth, the night, Time.
I promised you the new Jerusalem, I brought you Hell.”
—’Carnival of Freedom and Betrayal’
False gods, death, and nothingness, but also a beacon of hope: these are the topics behind A Gaze onto the Abyss, the debut album from the German quartet Antlers. Surrounding Pablo C., who is well-known for being the mastermind behind the neofolk troupe Sangre de Muérdago, Antlers try to express a devastating sense of loss and sadness with the help of black metal structures, small yet ever-so-powerful interludes, and folky influences.
In contrast to legions of useless so-called ‘atmospheric’ beginnings to metal albums, the intro to A Gaze into the Abyss, ‘Reverence’, sets the basic mood of melancholy for the forty minutes to come and descends organically into the first real song, ‘Carnival of Freedom and Betrayal’. It is here that Antlers clearly show what they are capable of. Extremely dark yet comprehensible vocals meet traditional and repetitive black metal riffs and blast-beats. Unobtrusive melodies slowly begin to take a hold of the listener and various breaks, tempo variations, and even a solo keep the song interesting over the course of five-and-a-half minutes. While Antlers offer up nothing new or innovative to the genre here, the powerful and energetic songwriting as well as the band’s skilled musicianship mold ‘Carnival of Freedom and Betrayal’ into an early highlight.
Thankfully, the Saxon music troupe don’t use up all of their energy at once. Each of the coming four songs have their own interesting characteristic to allow them to stand out among the others. There is, for example, ‘Hundreds’, with its militaristic drums and grooving rhythm section. Then there’s the fast and relentless ‘To the Throats’, with its spoken samples, which are taken from the poem ‘A War Song to Englishmen’ from William Blake. One should not forget the monolithic ‘Memories of the Extinct’ (clocking in at about ten minutes) with its slow, almost doom-like start, its mighty drum inferno, and its on-point black metal riffing.
“Alchemy of the spirit. Dark matter flows
to the primal ocean where we were not but one.
As I was before my birth I will be after my death.
The hammer will sound until the lineage is extinct.”
—’Memories of the Extinct’
There are two additional points which make A Gaze into the Abyss such a strong album. First of all, the lyrical thoughts are equally as interesting as the music. Granted, Antlers had some help from the historical thriller Q, which was published under the pseudonym Luther Blissett. They also took inspiration from one of the greatest English thinkers and poets in history, the aforementioned William Blake. Nevertheless, this doesn’t change the fact that the lyrics perfectly accompany the music and enrich the atmosphere. While a rather unknown German producer took care of the mixing (and a great job he did indeed), Antlers also decided to hire Chris Fielding for the mastering of their first album. Long-time readers here will surely know that Chris was responsible for the production of such albums as The Threnody of Triumph by Winterfylleth and To the Nameless Dead by Primordial. Fielding clearly knows what he is doing, and Antlers couldn’t have made a wiser decision.
There are very few bad things to say about A Gaze into the Abyss. I have already touched upon the matter that one should not expect any kind of innovation or ground-breaking experimentation here. Antlers work within the confines of their genre and try to create a melancholic atmosphere within the possibilities of this music without kicking down boundaries. No doubt, every other riff has already been heard before and is likely rather traditional, but this doesn’t disturb the flow of the album. One might also question the idea to use a bleak landscape with a howling deer in the background as cover artwork, and likewise, having a swarm of birds printed on the actual CD is also fairly cliché. In the case of Antlers, this kind of gothic element that is found on A Gaze into the Abyss still somehow works and comes off as charming rather than stereotype.
Therefore, A Gaze into the Abyss is a real treat for fans of melancholic black metal and also for lovers of a semi-gothic aesthetic who have no problem with piercing riffs and blasting drums!
02) Carnival of Freedom and Betrayal
04) To the Throats
05) A Jail of Flesh
06) Memories of the Extinct
Written by: Jonathan R.
Pest Productions (China) / PEST110 / CD
Vendetta Records (Germany) / #99 / 12″ LP
Independent (Germany) / None / Digital
Atmospheric Black Metal / Depressive Black Metal