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Sumptuously atmospheric and relentlessly gloomy - 92%

Dannu, July 12th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1998, CD, Cacophonous Records

I first bought this album on a whim in, I think it was late 1998 or early 1999. I liked the cover art and that was enough for me to make a purchase.

The Return Of The Black Dead is a unique album in many respects. It's obviously black metal, but the band do a few things with the songs which differentiate it from the rest of the frostbitten crop. For a start there are many tracks on the album which are almost doom metal in terms of pace and opt for a dragging and slow speed. While this might put off fans of a more brutal style, it obviously was an intentional focus on mood rather than brute force. The production, while undoubtedly black metal, is more understated, almost calm for this style of music and the addition of keyboards as padding sits in the mix quite nicely because of the comparatively reserved sound.

The thing that this album really has going for it is atmosphere. The whole release is practically dripping with it! There is a certain medieval vibe to the songs which when blended with the aforementioned keyboards and mystical sounding song titles really fires the imagination and it's easy to get lost in the vastness of it all. Some nicely placed and occasional clean guitar work, which has a certain dark folky vibe to it adds even more bricks to the ever growing pile of atmosphere.

It would be unfair not to mention that this band are actually a Christian outfit. It's odd, because I went for ten years without even realising this due to the 1998 release seeing Cacophonous removing all the references to religion which were present in the original Kongsblod album. Regardless, I think one has to have the ability to separate the art from the artist and simply appreciate the music and if done so then there is much to enjoy about this album. Otherwise, cornerstone bands of this genre like Burzum and Graveland wouldn't be appreciated nearly as much I don't think.

The Return Of The Black Death is a wonderfully bleak sounding album whose main strength lies in sounding tragic rather than out and out evil. There are nasty elements of course but it's more sinister than anything else. Given that the band themselves describe their music as "sorrow metal" it's quite apt.

Sumptuously atmospheric and relentlessly gloomy. The album, for my personal tastes, is a perfect mix of regretful doom and acerbic black metal with just the right amount of lost emotion. Being brutal is fine, but here it is neither necessary nor is it the point.

Fantastic album!

Black Metal! - 100%

Inglourious, August 14th, 2012

The Return Of The Black Death was and is a huge step musically for Antestor, as previous albums show the perfect mixture of 2 to 4 genres this album focuses more on Antestor's black metal side of things, lyrically Kjetil Molnes does not compromise praising GOD and keeping the faith, even though recording for a secular label.

The album opens up with a very cold intro, which shortly takes the form of A Sovereign Fortress, a song all about taking refuge and safety in GOD, the instruments are great and raw(not to raw) with very acoustic drumming and mid-range power chord tremolo, its really the harmonisation of keyboards, backing vocals and the guitars that makes this song very powerful and even the almost bouncy bass fits in very nicely.

This also being the last album Kjetil Molnes did the singing on, he fails not in delivering a great performance, with screams that unlike the usually ones have a big range like most clean vocalists have, to put it bluntly you don't feel like he's talking to you in a scream voice you can hear he is actually singing. Although in previous albums Molnes has almost always had some clean vocals somewhere, it isn't a let down when he instead has clean speaking which sounds depressing and mournful, for example in the song Sorg, you'll hear the most depressing sounding voice speaking about sadness in his vernacular tongue.

Armoth also doesn't fail in this album, this by far being his fastest drumming I've heard he also doesn't stray from addind that very soulful sound he always has, you'll hear the most impressive drumming in Svartedaudens Gjenkomst, Kongsblod and Battlefield, these 3 songs showcase his most solid double bass, best tom rolls and cymbal work and of course blast beats, at one point in Svartedaudens Gjenkomst he is nailing the double bass, smashing a crash cymbal, keeping time with the snare and doing some tom rolls very skillfully all at once.

In this album you'll also find Vemod has written very soulful black metal, even with songs like Ancient Prophecy which would be not anyones preferance if done differently, its 8 minutes long and not progressive but because of its place in this album at track 10 it fits perfectly, the album goes through a series of different emotions as a whole, no single song sticks to the same thing as the next so Ancient Prophecy is a really good send off and it goes again into a icy outro matching the intro.

The Return Of The Black Death is a whole album working together, it doesn't go stray or conflict with its design, musically it tells a story ever winding with a pleasing conclusion and lyrically it praises GOD and fights with the sadness and strife most people feel. I suggest this album to anyone who loves GOD and metal, and needs quality music or is a Antestor fan. I don't suggest this album however to people who are not into black metal, especially the more raw true to black metal sound, and also very satanic people won't like this album.

Traditional, Pure, and Cold - 86%

thejoker, September 2nd, 2011

"The Return of the Black Death", if we speak in the purist sense, was the first actual black metal release for Norway's infamous Antestor. Having before indulged before in doom/death metal with black elements, this album sees the band completely thin out their sound and go pure black metal.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this release at times - when one listens to the thunderous glory that is "The Forsaken", this album sounds rather weak. Where "The Forsaken" charges across the battlefield, TROTBD limps along through an old cemetery and sighs. In other words, the music on here is slow, sad, forlorn, reedy, and cold. At times, it seems barely alive - check out "Ancient Prophecy" for an example of this, where the sound is almost similar to Nortt's funereal emptiness in terms of pace and guitar tone.

Others have compared this album in sound to early Satyricon - having been a massive fan of that band's early period up until "Nemesis Divina", I would say that this is somewhat true. There is a certain medieval tone to the musical atmosphere that is comparable in respects. If this album did sound similar to any Satyricon album, it would be "The Shadowthrone", but not nearly as aggressive vocally.

As with any black metal album worth its weight, TROTBD has the cold atmosphere in spades - this album causes frost to form on the speakers and a chill to take up residence in the bones. "Gamlelandet (The Land of the Elders)" seems to be about the most aggressive song on the album, boasting Fenriz-style drumming and some nasty throat-shredding by old vocalist Martyr. Keyboards on the track are perfectly suited, very much in the vein of early Emperor. Other songs are more spoken-word passages ("Sorg" for instance) which work quite well for the band's sound on this disc.

Even if this album is underwhelming compared to "The Forsaken", in some ways, I almost like it better. The songs do not blast along at the pace as "The Forsaken", but their mid-paced, dirgey nature and half-dead and frozen sound really works. It's a sound of the past for sure, especially when one considers the sound of much of the more well-known black metal acts, both Christian and secular, that have gone on to a more "progressive" or orchestrated sound.

Overall, it's a classic release, but an acquired taste probably for some. The band's overwhelmingly thin sound and lack of death metal elements on this disc may turn away some fans of the band's early doom/death sound, or later black/death sound. This is Antestor's most pure black metal release, and thus it will not be for everybody. Purist black metal like this is rare nowadays, so if this is your thing, snatch this album up.

One of the top Christian black metal releases - pray for a re-release!

The Return of the Black Death - 85%

whitefrozen, September 7th, 2010

Antestor's The Return of the Black Death is often hailed as the definitive black metal album by the Christian metal realm; while I don't agree with this completely I do certainly think it's one of the better albums that has ever come out of the Christian metal world and probably one of the better albums in this genre.

TROTBD is heavily influenced, at least in my mind, by Satyricons Masterpiece Dark Medieval Times. Raw but not really lo-fi, medieval but not folk and a gloomy and even depressing atmosphere at times. A lot of the music sounds similar between the two, from the drumming to the vocals. While the two do share similarities, TROTBD is definitely it's own album. The atmosphere is less medieval and more oppressing here; I'd even say at times it becomes suffocating. While there's nothing really mind-blowing in terms of musical playing here this is a very well put together album from an atmospheric standpoint. The drums stick to pretty simple fast/slow patterns, keyboards provide an excellent backdrop for the guitars to wander and the vocals really tie it all together. The vocals, by Martyr, feature less of the extreme low guttural bellows from previous albums and much more black metal-esque screams and shrieks.

To elaborate on a point above, this isn't a technical masterpiece at all, nor does it have inhumanly fast drumming or guitar work. This is pure atmospheric black metal with some folkish/medieval touches. From the catchy "Sovereign Fortress" to the depressing dirge "Sorg" to the more uplifting "Kongsblod" and the chord-driven "Ancient Prophecy" this album oozes with a atmosphere that brings to mind the plague after which the album is named. If you want good, dark mood music, look no further.

While not the pinnacle of Christian black metal this is certainly one of the strongest albums from that realm as well as being one of the better pieces of atmospheric black metal out there. Dark but not overwhelming, oppressing but not crushing and bleak but with a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, The Return of the Black Death is an album I recommend to every fan of extreme metal.

A Mission - 40%

wight_ghoul, December 3rd, 2007

"…it is important that Christians [be] present in every field, in every genre…"
- Sygmoon (Morten Sigmund Magerøy), Screams Of Abel Issue 32

Mr. Magerøy, it must be noted, was not a participant in the recording of The Return Of The Black Death. But as an eventual member of Antestor his statement provides us a context through which to consider this piece. This expression of obligation is appropriate because that is what this album feels like: a band with a mission, a commitment, a duty that requires them to force themselves into the confines of a musical style that was not created for them. It was surely a challenging task, and the debated level of success gained raises questions that were perhaps answered by the band when they later moved away from the black metal sound – why accept the conventions and restraints of a style so counterproductive in achieving the expression of a Christian message? Whether it was the missionary mentality that brought Antestor into secular extreme metal like Black Robes into Huron pre-Quebec or not, they were met with hostility and challenges befitting such a mindset. How successful was this expedition?

Keyboards are a strong presence, though rarely overwhelming. The album does not approach the cheap gaudiness of the average symphonic black metal atmosphere; restrained production keeps the various elements at a comfortable distance. The recording's main harsh element is the vocal approach, as the typically abrasive black metal tremolo riffing though present is usually buried within the underlying ambience to varying extents. Essentially the sonic outlook of this album is grey with occasional glimpses of bittersweet hope shining through the clouds. The vocals provide a contrast to the rest of this soundscape that is not atypical in black metal, although the relatively easily decipherable lyrics enhance the difference and make it less natural, even awkward. It is not hard to imagine that if you were to replace the vocals with clean ones you would have a subdued Christian doom album, probably one far more coherent than what exists here. At moments, such as large sections of the tastefully meditative "Sorg", we are given glimpses at what might have been were the band to be free of an apparent obligation to insert the black metal vocal convention throughout their work.

The previously described atmosphere, when pushed aside, reveals a collection of content that is noticeably uneven. The somber doom passages of "Sorg", the nearly uplifting praise vibe of "A Sovereign Fortress", and the weirdly mechanical moments of "The Bridge of Death", though consistently bathed in dreary hues create an odd and disconnected greater picture. While an array of experimental and wide ranging music can certainly be blended into a unified vision on one album, here the explorations aren't particularly experimental and often defy explanation – variety for variety's sake, or the simple byproduct of writing a bunch of songs without a master plan. Whatever the approach, it results in each song standing apart from the others but creates a disjointed listening experience that obscures any greater meaning. Attention to album structure is apparent only in the most pragmatic sense – there are intros and outros, of course. And the late appearance of a standard rising action/climax/dénouement trilogy consisting of tracks eight through ten help strengthen the album as a unified force, but this is after we have been wandering aimlessly for the better portion of the running time.

Let all my traducers be shamed and dishonoured
Let all who seek my hurt be covered with scorn

It would be unfair to focus on the occasional byproducts of the band's ESL status that appear in the lyrics, instead here a typical passage illustrates the religious nature of this album's tone – Antestor doesn't take action, they pray for God to do it for them. When they do take action (they did make this audio proselytization effort, of course) it is with His permission and guidance. A role reversal of your typical Satan-inspired black metal call to arms, perhaps, although Antestor never seem to realize the irony. And there is plenty of that – one gets the impression that these are the type of folks who heard "One Rode To Asa Bay" and remarked at what an uplifting story was being told. As those pagan temples were converted into Christian churches, so we have Scandinavian folk incorporated here into songs about Vikings being guided by the light of Christ ("Svartedauens Gjenkomst"). This unique set of juxtapositions is sure to amuse and probably offend some, and it's a shame that this reaction, though surely anticipated, is never capitalized upon. This could be a blistering assault on metalized and romanticized ideals of pre-Christian Europe, if they were to use this music (both folk and black) in a malicious fashion – but it is understandable that they went a different route, as these don't appear to be Christians of the fire-and-brimstone variety. Instead of parody we get the worst kind of irony, the unintended and unacknowledged kind that comes of as self-destructively naïve.

Vocalist Martyr is appropriately pseudonymed, he sounds strained and sorrowful. But there isn't much in the way of suffering on this album, not nearly as much as the vocal tone would suggest – and when the suffering abates, a strange disparity between message and delivery is created. Songs of praise become songs become emotional cries of prayer, which is effective in a certain way, as is the expression of regret in "The Bridge Of Death." But when the tone doesn't change for the battle cries of "Kongsblod", the issue arises: is this supposed to express never ending tears for Jesus, or do we just have a case where whatever the vocalist's standard black metal screech sounds like is deemed proper for all occasions? When "Jesus you fought the battle for me / Help me to see that you set me free" is delivered with a tone identical to that of "We are God's servants / Armed for war", it would be expected that the musical accompaniment would give us a hint as to the mood. But the overall tone doesn't fluctuate greatly; this is a record where aggression is absent, where triumph and defeat, submission and regret are given a uniform coat of melancholy drab.

Following the climax of the "Kongsblod"/"Battlefield" victory of the Christian army, the falling action of "Ancient Prophecy" is an anomaly worthy of study on its own. Something of a reserved gothic dirge, it is atmospherically as strong as this album gets, and tasteful if not ambitious. Conceptually it is puzzling, offering a collection of philosophical paradoxes in the popular Christian "the last shall be first" style. These droning passages are bracketed by something far more unexpected – a number of favourite quotes from Ridley Scott's 1982 seminal future noir film Blade Runner. Fans of that work will recall the echoing final lines of Edward James Olmos' character: "It's too bad she won't live! But then again, who does?" These and other lines are paraphrased here, in an apparent attempt to form a powerful Christian narrative for the album's finale. It's easy to presume plagiarism, as when the context of the film is considered the message here doesn't make much sense. Here, meeting the Christian maker face to face for judgment is portrayed as an inescapable consequence. Yet when Rutger Hauer's replicant character meets his maker he is hardly humbled – he gouges the weak old man's eyes out and leaves him to die.

This band was on a mission on this album, and if the evangelization of black metal wasn't too great a feat, why not Christianize Blade Runner while they're here? One more layer of cognitive dissonance isn't going to hurt.

This Album makes Baby Jesus Cry - 17%

Creeping_Steff, November 7th, 2006

Discussion surrounding Christian metal bands can become quite heated. Many argue that the concept is an oxymoron and an affront to the metal ‘ideal’, whatever that may be. Some argue that all music should be judged purely on musical merit and nothing else, and that if a Christian band sounded good they would listen it to, even if they were not practitioners of the Christian faith. Opinions are particularly divided when it comes to Christian-themed black metal, which is arguably one of the biggest contradictions in Christian thought since…well…the Spanish Inquisition.

A common question among reviewers is how to contextualize albums that they are reviewing. This question becomes particularly important for bands such as Antestor, a band attempting to play Christian-themed black metal. Is it more correct to review this album paying close attention to it’s contradictorily nature, analysing the music in relation to how it works both as a part of the black metal and the Christian music scenes? Or is it better practise to say ‘bollocks’ to this and review the album simply as a piece of music, regardless of its context in the wider scene?

When I decided to review this album I struggled with this question. I’ve decided that the fairest way to review and album is to at least begin by analysing it as a musical entity. This would prove an easy task if the album contained any decent music, but it doesn’t. It’s just, well…blah.

The instruments all sound hollow and empty. This is partly due to sub-par production but partly just due to incompetence and some poor songwriting. The drums in particular stand out, for all the wrong reasons. Many of the riffs could be improved with decent blastbeats and more intricate fills, but the drums are instead slow and tinny. I would liken the cymbal sound on tracks like ‘A Sovereign Fortress’ and ‘’Sorg’ to a hobo beating a metal spoon on a half-eaten can of baked beans.

The guitars and bass have no soul, no atmosphere. The riffs are simply uninspired. I admit I slightly enjoyed the riff on ‘Kongsblod’, and there are the beginnings of some interesting ideas on ‘Battlefield’, but I am trying to be nice here.

Adding keyboards to metal is always a risky business, and it didn’t save this album. ‘Sorg’ is a horrible slow track, with distorted keyboard and atrocious spoken chanting. The song is meant, I presume, to sound dark and atmospheric, but it has all the atmosphere of a choleric choir boy with a head cold.

Vocally, the lyrics alternate between barking, screeching and a sort of spoken chanting. The best vocal are on ‘gamelander’; a track which actually managed to sound mildly brutal, but was ruined by a chanted section in the middle.

So that’s ‘The Return of the Black Death’. Judging simply on musical merit, it’s not great, it’s not even ‘okay’. It is actually quite terrible. Many blame this on the band’s attempt to Christianize black metal, but I think that’s an easy answer. Many Black Metal purists would argue that Black metal is ‘so much more then just a genre’, and is seeped in idealism and imagery that make it impossible to be given a Christian slant. I disagree with this. Black Metal is no more a style of music, lyrical content or otherwise, then any other genre, and practically every genre of music in the world has its Christian counterpart.

No, I don’t think Antestor’s inherent crappiness can be blamed on their Christianity. If this album were written by a bunch of Levay-worshipping, goat sacrificing Satanists, it would have sounded just as crap. The lyrics in the song ‘sovereign fortress’ would only need slight alterations to read as a Satanic ditty. Changing a few words here and there wouldn’t make the song good. No, Antestor’s crappiness is more related to their inability to play their instruments properly or write inspiring music.

I read Hellhammer used to do session drums for these guys. I’m amazed Vikernes didn’t think to stab him for that