Friday, September 21, 2012
Antidemon - ApocalypseNow (2012)
Death Metal, by its very nature, is not a subtle form of music. Whereas certain styles of pop, chamber music, folk, etc. can change ever so slightly with the ebb and flow of the song, death metal is more concerned with beating you over the head. So while the genre has become more expansive and progressive than the originators of the genre may have ever envisioned (including one Mr. Chuck Schuldiner, responsible for some of that progression), it is still a style of music that thrives on immediacy and impact. Blunt force impact, some might say. Be that as it may, one can only listen to pummeling death metal assaults so much before either they begin to sound the same, or just don't stand out from the other aural beatings enough to warrant your time and money. Thankfully for Antidemon, their latest album "ApocalypseNow" doesn't suffer from that one-dimensional nature.
I must admit, though I've heard of Antidemon and have heard snippets of their music, I just haven't bothered to pick up any of their material until this CD came to me, graciously provided by the US promo rep for Rowe Productions (home of the mighty Mortification). Decidedly old-school in sound and approach, this death metal power trio are unashamed in their love of all things death metal, and in their decision to keep this a relatively stripped down, simple affair. That doesn't mean this is a boring or "samey" album: far from it. However, they avoid the use of proggy keys or modern effects simply as window dressing, and they let the songs speak for themselves. This is actually more basic than fellow Brazillian death metallers KRIG, but then this band has a different overall vibe and sound than their metal brethren, bearing more in common with Bolt Thrower than more modern bands.
Instrumentally, this album is quite solid. Guitars have a satisfying crunch and "thick" sound to them, but it's not so bass-heavy that it gets muddy - the guitar sound is always crisp and clear. The guitar sound has the benefit of being recorded with modern equipment so it's loud and "up front", but the tone bears great resemblance to early 90's death metal and extreme thrash, which will be music to the ears of some fans. Being that front man Batista (aka Carlos Batista) is the bassist, he is audible in the mix (unlike a lot of death metal), though not quite to Steve Rowe levels of clarity and separation. This band's approach is a bit more brutal than classic Mortification, so necessarily the bass is as much rhythm section as it is an instrument on its own. His bass work is notable, though, because he doesn't just follow the guitar riffs all the time. Drumming is pretty good overall, provided by Juliana (Carlos' wife), with plenty of fills, rolls, and double bass work, including some blast beats. She is a powerful drummer, in the sense that she hits those skins hard and her double-bass drumming sounds authentic - no triggers detected here.
While the tagline used to promote the album has been "Brutal Grind Art from Brazil", I would have to say there's not much grind here. This is straight up, old-school death metal all the way. In terms of songwriting, this is a solid album with few frills, though a couple surprises crop up here and there. For example, the blast-beat driven intro to "Fuera Diablo" is intense and makes you think you're in for a complete barn burner, but after a few seconds it goes silent, only to come in again with a lone bass line and much slower instrumentation to follow than what preceded it. I thought it was a nice touch, an interesting bait and switch. The other interesting thing about this song is during the respite moments between blasting sections where Carlos and Luis are playing essentially third notes, while Juliana's drumming underneath is all in a quarter note double-bass pattern. Later tracks like "Abonicacao" also employ some slightly more melodic riffing and slow/fast tempo juxtaposition, as well as some groove which kept things interesting. Unfortunately, there are no guitar solos to speak of. Lyrics are biblically based, as one might expect with the name Antidemon, and are primarily in Portuguese, though the booklet offers both English and Portuguese translations, which is a nice addition. Liner notes are all in English as well. Packaging is great, with colorful artwork, high quality band photos, easy to read lyrics, and nice graphics throughout.
Now that the pleasantries are covered, let's get a couple minor issues on the table. First, there are a handful of spots where Juliana's drums don't quite seem to sync up right. It is most noticeable during the first 2-3 tracks, particularly during the title track where it seems her rhythms are just a hair behind everyone, or during the first couple bars of second track "Infernal", where she's a 16th note too fast after the pause (unless that was intentional). By the 4th track, most of the drumming is very on point, so I'm not quite sure where the problem lies. It could very well be a production thing, where the drums just weren't synchronized with the other instruments 100%, which seems likely, since the bulk of the album sees her drumming on point. It could also be a casualty of the analog recording and mixing process, so this timing issue may be just that the final tracks didn't sync right on the final master. This is a minor issue to be sure, certainly nothing like the drumming atrocity that is fellow death metallers Clemency or early stuff by Castaway, but is noticeable in the first 2-3 tracks. Secondly, I think the track order is a bit odd, since the album seems (to me, at least) to get more interesting and varied as the disc goes along. Having most of your most basic tracks right at the beginning and then adding more variety as the album progresses sounds good in theory, but it makes more sense to me to mix things up and generate interest early, and break up the monotony here and there with a track that does something different in between 2 or 3 real heavy hitters. This is more about pacing so much as it is about the material itself, but it is worth noting. Thirdly, and more on a personal note, I just wish this CD was more brutal. Maybe I've become spoiled by modern death metal and deathcore where CDs just melt your face off from start to finish, while still weaving in lots of melody or keeping things interesting, but other than cranking this thing to 11 to get the full effect, it doesn't satisfy me the same way that other, more intricate or meticulously produced death metal does.
So how does this fare overall? I think mileage will vary for the listener, in many ways. If you're a dyed-in-the-wool death metal fan and can't get enough of the style (especially for those favoring traditional death metal), this will practically be a no-brainer, as this is a very solid release that is worth picking up. Those looking for a bit more variety or depth to their metal will be left wanting a bit, mainly because this is as no-frills as death metal gets. The lack of solos will be a deciding factor for some, so if you must have solos in your death metal, knock a few points off my score. If lack of solos isn't a deal-breaker, there's a lot to like here from Carlos' brutal vocals to Luis' very competent guitar riffing, and Juliana's hard-hitting drum work. Like I said, if you are heavily into death metal, this is a solid release that delivers quality songs and musicianship without hitting you over the head with technicality or layers of production. If that sounds right up your alley, you might just find a friend in this CD. Recommended.