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Antestor are known as one of the brightest lights within the Christian black metal scene, but they were not always so - in their earlier days, they were far more of a doom/death act than a black metal one. Before the Nordic thundering of "The Forsaken", before the melancholic dirges of "The Return of the Black Death", there was this battle-axe of an album.
Funny thing is, though Antestor's sound has varied over the years, the same basic feeling and atmosphere remains, though the style changes. Antestor's "sorrow metal" description describes the sound generated over the course of their career rather well - the melancholy, pounding doom riffs, anguished vocals, and classical piano bits are all accounted for on pretty much every release.
Regardless, consider "Martyrium" to be Antestor's most death metal sounding release. Where their early recordings had a sound very reminiscent of My Dying Bride's "As the Flower Withers", this disc blends that particular sound with the more grindish elements of classic Obituary and some black metal shrieks here and there. All in all, it's quite a varied album.
The guitars grind and pulverize, and Martyr pulls off some amazing vocals that vary from death metal growls to all-out high-pitched black metal screams. The doomy atmosphere is kept intact for most of the album however - rarely do the band ever break out into a gallop; Antestor prefers to crush, pound, and bury its listener rather than flay them alive.
Track-wise, there is a lot of variety here. "Spiritual Disease" and "Thoughts" are the most black metal like songs on this album, though "Spiritual Disease" descends into Incantation like doom/death at times. "Inmost Fear" sees the band at their most like My Dying Bride, and "Searching" is the band playing full-strength death metal (crank this track, you'll be thankful you did).
Overall, it's an excellent and underrated album - it may not be as grim or majestic sounding as later albums, but in its own right, it dominates.
Antestor is a band that means quite a bit to me. They were one of the first metal bands I ever listened to and I consider their music to be some of the finest extreme metal ever released. Martyrium, the debut album by Antestor, hearkens back to before they were a sweeping symphonic black metal band to when they were a fairly simple black/death/doom metal hybrid band, and this album while not their personal best is one of my favorite metal albums.
Slow, heavy and atmospheric is the formula here. At times the music does get faster, but even the fast parts aren't even super fast. There is a lot of clean guitar playing in the background, especially during the solos and slower moments and it really adds to the feel of the album. The tone of the guitars is pretty interesting in that it's not very "heavy" sounding but still manages to actually BE heavy. The use of a few different styles is also intriguing; the music here ranges from almost pure death/doom to blasting black metal to somber and gothic moments saturated with mournful keyboards, and in a few cases all three of those styles are interwoven with fantastic results. A weaker aspect of the music is the production, specifically the drums; they have no power whatsoever and when the toms are being pounded on in slow and steady fashion it comes off as amateur sounding. The bass and snare sound fantastic, but there's just no power in the toms.
The vocals, by Martyr, are fantastic. His low, guttural growls are some of the best I've heard in metal and his higher pitched screeches sound absolutely depraved. His baritone clean vocals, while probably not technically "amazing" fit the music perfectly, especially on the third track, "Depressed," where used with mournful piano and guitar create a truly depressing feel.
The weak point of this album, unfortunately, are the lyrics. Christian in nature and English by what appears to be very poor translation from Norwegian, they are so poorly worded that they almost sound comical at times. I don't blame the band for not being English scholars, but some of the lyrics are downright laughable. Skip over the liner notes if you want to continue taking the music as seriously as it wants to be taken.
What I find most interesting about this album is the mix of styles, in an era where this was far from commonplace in the metal scene. Like I said above, goth, black, death and doom metal all come together on this album in such an almost perfect way it's almost strange and to my knowledge rarely if ever used by bands of the day. While this is a pretty normal practice today among metal bands, I think I give Antestor credit for being among the (if not THE) first to combine all such styles in such a good way.
Highlights of this album for me would have to be "Depressed," with its gloomy keyboards and dark vocals; the title track/instrumental with it's brilliant drumming and use of clean guitars and transitions from blazing fast to slow and somber; and the closer track, "Mercy Lord," which while having a rather awkward opening minute and a half or so builds to a brilliant black/death/gothic/doom masterpiece complete with soaring female vocals and organs. "Mercy Lord" definitely ranks as one of Antestor's best songs and is a powerful way to end to the album.
Martyrium stands as the debut album of a brilliant band, and while not a perfect album by any means, there is enough good music here and enough interesting style and combinations of styles that any metal fan should be more than satisfied by this record.
My first encounter with Antestor was years ago when a Rowe Compilation named ‘Northern Lights’ where Inmost Fear, Thoughts and Mercy Lord were compiled. I was amazed about their depressive sound and all the influences such as viking, gothic, doom, black metal and even death metal (in the voice mainly). At that time I did not get what the band was all about but in time it becomes clear being their point with the ‘study’ that you have gone through for many years in the metal world. So, when a band like this creates or should I say rise up controversy it is usually due to two reasons: 1. they are utter bad music (including instrumentation, lyrics, songwriting, etc) or 2. They are as good as any and some purists cannot accept this fact.
Antestor crafted these songs early in their career but they never got the chance to record them properly, until after Return of the Black Death was recorded and put out on Cacophonous and they were signed with Endtime they got it. The album thus, is a mixture of all these styles mentioned above and it is sometimes hard to dig it because of this whereas you get depressive songs, black metal songs, death metal growls, ala Falkenbach songs (‘Thoughts’), doom, and gothic songs and some very progressive elements (for a black metal band) like the tempo changes and the long riff progressions or keyboard interludes. The guitar distortion in overall bothers me a lot due to its atmospheric feeling and it is too screechy. I think it should be more down-tuned and thick to give the perfect dark sound they wanted to show us. The drums work pretty fine in the slow mid tempo parts but not on the fast parts. The bass, due to bad sound mixing is almost not audible, which is bad because a thick bass sound would’ve given this album a more compact sound. Guitar solos, which are very rare on these bands are predominant here and they are everywhere when the songs do not fall into the doom or ala Viking categories.
Spiritual Disease is a beautiful song except for some things that I consider to be not so great like the guitar distortion and the horrific drumming in the fast parts which are very far from the pure blast beats common to black metal, but aside from that it has exquisite guitar solos and the black metal shrieks can pierce your soul. It has as well a lot of tempo changes which I consider to be very good. This is one of the songs which have this gloomy and depressive sound which Antestor has become famous for. The use of keyboards is also very good and I don’t think they overpower the guitars and/or the music for that matter.
I will not detail on every song but as far as ‘Depressed’ sound it is one of my favorites, mainly due to its sad atmosphere with the piano introduction and the low ‘’chant’’ vocals, plus black metal vocals and very slow pace to give this terrible and desperate feeling. ‘Materialistic lie’, ‘Searching’ and ‘under the sun’ (based on King Salomon’s search in life) are almost identical and they are not remarkable. ‘Inmost Fear’ is a doom song with harsh/low vocals. ‘Thoughts’ follows very much the Falkenbach structure with flute intro and then it builds up to a mid pace song with black metal shrieks and very introspective lyrics. ‘Martyrium’ is an instrumental guitar driven, nothing out of the ordinary but not out of place since it is mid tempo and it has a great ethereal atmosphere. Finally we get to ‘Mercy Lord’ which is really hard to explain, I’d say you have to listen it by yourself but what I can say is that it is atmospheric keyboard driven like those used by Mr. King Diamond with death growls and a very slow pace AND an awesome melody. It also has a keyboard solo and the beautiful ethereal vocals of Tora which can be compared (on this song at least) to Vibeke Stene from Tristania and it ends with such a desperate mood that you cannot help but feeling alone and in complete desolation after listening to this. A few bands can create this emotion on me and that is why I give Antestor credit. Since I am not fan of these kinds of bands, they provide what you look for: depressive and sad atmosphere that can move you. Whether you like (like me) intelligent provoking lyrics or Christian messages and/or positive messages you can check these guys out. They still a lot to offer and some production cleaning and highlights here and there could make them polish their brand (which would happen later in the Forsaken album) but as for a start this is indeed a good album to check out.
Antestor, the notorious Christian band, opens their 'official' music history with Martyrium. I was directed to this album in another music forum, and decided to look into this band. I was not impressed by what I heard, but I decided they did have some musical skills.
Overall, this album is quite slow, and quite easy to get bored of. This album is not so much a black metal album, but gothic style doom. The use of keyboards is prevalent, and maybe even overpowering. The guitar is very distorted, and has a scratchy tone. The guitar tone is comparable to many black metal bands. The drum work is actually not bad, and is fitting to the music. The vocals are fitting to the music as well. The vocalist uses deep, death metal style screams. There are also black metal style growls. The one thing Antestor has going for them in this release is a 'depressive' sound. There is a woman singer used on this album as well, she jumps out at you in some tracks.
I have a hard time listening to this album because of the lyrical content. These guys are really, really trying to convert you when you listen to their music. The whole 'Christianity' thing is way over bearing, and I am forced to skip past them. I don't want this to sound like an anti-Christian rave, I get annoyed when any religion does this.
Antestor is a decent band, but has its weaknesses. This can be said about many bands, in general. I think if they lost the keyboards, and decided to write music in a more secular standpoint, they would be better. I still recommend you check this out for yourself.