It does not seem like it’s already been a decade since Antaeus last brought forth a new album. A new record following ten years of silence is made significant by the wait alone; artists have risen, created their work, then quietly proceeded to fuck back off into nothing, all in the time it’s been since Antaeus released Blood Libels. The anticipation for this latest album, Condemnation, wasn’t hurt by the fact that their previous album turned out to be one of this millennium’s most punishing black metal works. Not to mention that Antaeus’s propensity for sonic violence has earned them a spot amid Norma Evangelium Diaboli—as close to a modern day black metal aristocracy as we’re bound to see. Where most modern bands earning such reverence have taken a relatively highbrow route to black metal, Antaeus are forever down in the dirt: violent, primitive, and animalistic. At some point in the last decade, the Second Wave spirit crossed the North Sea onto the shores of France. It really doesn’t matter if Antaeus weren’t around to conjure the same levels of public controversy as their predecessors. Much as their Norma Evangelium Diaboli compadres in Katharsis mirrored Darkthrone for a new generation of black metal, I think Antaeus lends itself to a similar parallel with classic-era Mayhem. They took the original template and fueled it with new levels of hate and depravity. Out of the tabloids and straight into the veins, as it were.
Given the recent return from Deathspell Omega as well, it is interesting to see how a band like Antaeus opts to take things forward after a period of rest. For all intent and purposes, Blood Libels sounded like the point where they had finally taken their violence to an almost intellectual level of sophistication more in keeping with the orthodox masters they’re grouped alongside. I don’t think Condemnation makes much sense as a continuation of Antaeus circa 2006. Instead, it’s as if they’ve made the conscious decision to push themselves back to an earlier stage of development. It’s not quite as raw as Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan, but I get the impression that any extra layers of polish are a natural result of a career’s worth of experience. Now, arguably more than ever, an experience of Antaeus is single-minded. There’s no theological pomp, no genre-bending, even precious little in the way of distinctive riffs for the unprepared to cling to.
In many ways, this reduction to a purer essence is a wide step back from the violent perfection on Blood Libels. Because of this, my initial reaction towards Condemnation was one of disappointment. Where was the new decade’s soundtrack to self-destruction? At once, Condemnation hit all of the right notes, but it did so in such a by-the-numbers manner by their standards that it undercut the sense of psychotic mania that I look for in their creations. Now that I’m older and wiser (read: I’ve listened to the album at least once a day since it came out), it’s difficult to say how much my opinion has really changed. It really is tough not to feel disappointed in the wake of Blood Libels. On the other hand, the irredeemable hatred that characterizes Antaeus’s work is still rife on Condemnation, and I can nary think of a black metal album apart from the Black Fucking Cancer LP that matches it in sheer negative energy.
Condemnation is best described as a ‘Part II’ to Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan, not solely in terms of style, but in terms of its experience. I consider Cut Your Flesh… to be one of the most hate-fueled and well-realized debuts in black metal history. It was still a fucking tough album to get into, and it wasn’t until later that the aggression really began to set in. From the practically unrelenting straightforward aggression to the chainsaw riffs, pit bull snarls, and immaculate ambient interludes, Condemnation retreads almost every aspect of the debut, so it makes sense that the same lurking malice would take time to grow. Dropping the production values of Blood Libels and strung-out dynamics of the oft-maligned and painfully underrated De Principii Evangelikum, it almost seems like they tried to go out of their way to replicate the experience of their debut. To be quite honest though, even if Cut Your Flesh… has managed to draw out more bizarre acts and feelings per capita than the other two, it’s the album I would have seen followed up on the least. Even nowadays, the reason an album like Cut Your Flesh… meets its ends so well is the fact that no album has managed to match it in meeting its specific goal. There is no demon Condemnation wishes to invoke that Cut Your Flesh… didn’t already convince to mutilate several times over.
Maybe I’m disappointed by Condemnation. It’s true that I don’t like the way the production sounds thin and generally weaker than its predecessor. I don’t feel warm to the fact that Menthor‘s drumming (fast as it is) sounds like a drum machine with writer’s block. I don’t like the fact that one of my favourite bands has released an album that plays it relatively ‘safe’ as opposed to striking out on its own and seeing where the pieces fall. I can stand by all these criticisms, and might even wonder why more aren’t underwhelmed. That said, Condemnation does shine, in a sense, when detached from the context of the band that made it. Even if it’s a familiar approach, it is clear that Antaeus have lost precisely none of their contempt for life and mankind. The malice is still every bit as present in their music. My disappointment aside, there’s still no one out there that brings the hate quite like Antaeus.
01) Something Wicked This Way Comes (Intro)
02) Shadow Fires
03) Flesh Ritual
04) Angels of Despair
07) Symmetry of Strangers
08) End of Days