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Brilliant album deserving praise not condemnation - 93%

bord, July 23rd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2016, CD, Norma Evangelium Diaboli (Digipak)

This album is one of my favourite black metal releases of 2016. It is not redefining black metal in any way but it does reinforce Antaeus’ well-earned place as one of the finest black metal bands around.

Brutal, bitter, sick, angry, furious, harsh. The music is pure fast-paced, demonically ugly, venom-spitting black metal. If you’re into melodic, atmospheric or doom-laden BM then you probably shouldn’t be listening to Antaeus in the first place. If you're new to Antaeus while you won't go wrong with this release, I'd suggest starting with CYFAWS or Blood Libels.

The drumming is the biggest blastfest of their career to date (which, from these guys, is saying something). They pound near relentlessly throughout and could legitimately be replaced with a drum machine or a piece of machinery from a construction site. Set’s buzzsaw guitars on Blood Libels have become even more rough and ugly. MkM's vocals have morphed into a sand-blasting machine that can strip paint from half a mile away. This is the music of a satanic machinery factory. Your grandma will be taking out her hearing aids and giving them a tap to see if they have suddenly developed some horrendous distorted feedback loop.

I’ll admit that, given my high expectations, I was underwhelmed on my first couple of listens. The drumming is far more basic than previous albums and sometimes I do wish that Menthor had been given more freedom to provide input. Over time, however, I have come to appreciate this album to the point that I play it just as often as their previous works. Antaeus have essentially distilled their sound on CYFAWS and Blood Libels - Set's guitars are more distorted, MkM's vocals are even harsher while the drumming is (generally) faster and more industrial. This is extreme music made by artists whose souls embody the blackness of their music.

As with their previous albums, Antaeus are pushing the limits of speed whilst still playing riffs. The limits of distortion within black metal whilst not quite crossing over into the blackened-noise territory of artists like Nekrosov.

The songs largely blend into each other sounding very similar with only small changes in speed and feel. Shadow Fires, Angels of Despair and Condemnation are slight stand outs for me.

But there is variety. For example Symmetry of Strangers starts out as a merciless fast paced blast-fest that moves into a sludgy, oppressive, slow-moving section in the middle for about a minute before moving back into the realm of pure sonic vitriol. No sooner is that over than the furious pace is stepped up right from the first moments of End of Days which turns up the speed to Lunatic. But then at the 1:50-mark it turns into an even more oppressive, slow grind than the slow section in Symmetry. This one has you stuck in a treacley vat of clotting blood for just over a minute at which point you are thrown back into the chaotic fury.

Turn the bass up and play on 11.

CYFAWS Pt. II - 71%

ConorFynes, February 8th, 2017

It does not seem like a decade since Antaeus last brought forth a new album. A new record following ten years' 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 Condemnation wasn't hurt by the fact that their last album turned out to be one of this millennium's most punishing black metal works. Not to mention that Antaeus' propensity for sonic violence has earned them a spot amid the Norma Evangelium Diaboli-- as close to a modern day BM 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 NoEvDia compadres in Katharsis mirrored Darkthrone for a new generation of black metal, I think Antaeus lends itself to a similar parallel with the classic-era Mayhem. They took the original template and fuelled 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 CYFAWS, but I get the impression that any extra layers of polish are a natural result of the career's worth in 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 I look for in these guys. 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' 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 2" to CYFAWS, not solely in terms of style, but in terms of its experience. I consider CYFAWS to be one of the most hate-fuelled 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 Labels 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 CYFAWS has managed to draw out more fucked up 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 CYFAWS 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 CYFAWS didn't already convince to mutilate several times over.

Maybe I'm disappointed by Condemnation. It's true 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 feel 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 quite bring the hate like Antaeus.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical.

Repetitive music in danger of being bland & boring - 60%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, December 29th, 2016

Antaeus' first album in just over 10 years would have been a hotly anticipated affair for fans and reviewers alike - but for me, well, it's a disappointment, full stop. I had expected that the band wouldn't necessarily be as powerful as it had been when the guys released "Blood Libels" but I never thought their sound would be as drained and hollowed out as it is here on "Condemnation". Nor did I expect that Antaeus would strike out on a new musical tangent or stray away from their usual hyper-blasting approach - the problem though is that with their sound and style emptied of substance and energy, they're now starting to sound as though they're playing on autopilot.

The nine tracks go by in a blur and there's not much difference from one song to the next, with the exception of "Something Wicked This Way Comes" which is an all-ambient micro-piece segueing straight into the first track. The album is best heard as one meta-work of nine chapters all riffing on Antaeus' familiar themes of occult ritual worship, hate and self-mutilation, and a view of the apocalypse being close at hand with humanity's destruction being all but inevitable. As the songs whoosh by, some of the old savage and brutal Antaeus appears in "Watchers" (with that track's booming riffs) and "Symmetry of Strangers" (in its slower, doomy parts) but more often than not I get the feeling the band is on a mad instinctual rush towards the nearest bottomless abyss to fall right into it without understanding why it has to do that.

The last song "Abeyance" points in a direction of a hellish ambient industrial death machine and if Antaeus had relied less on repeating themselves over and over and tried something a bit different but no less sinister, they may have found a newer, darker energy and inspiration. Surely the irony of always taking the music to its elemental extremes yet at the same time staying within their own particular niche, repeating one extreme path over and over, must have struck the musicians while recording the album: the ever-present danger that looms as a result is that the music can end up ... bland and boring.