Through the fire & flames.
Coming first in a series of new EPs for Antagonist A.D in 2020 is their new five-track 7", 'Through Fire.' 'Through Fire' is a summarization of the thoughts and feelings had by Antagonist A.D frontman, Sam Crocker, over the course of 2018 and 2019. It's a short-lived, brooding mixture of personal, political and poignant sentiments about himself, people today, social media, depression, violence, activism, and the world at large that he and his bandmates exist within; the worst parts of which are exposed in all their naked ugliness whenever we open up our news feeds in the morning and say "fuck me, really?". Like always with this band, these expressions are all fired at point-blank range through your cranium via a series of loud pit-calls, pummeling breakdowns, big riffs, oppressive moods, and sick guitar work that heavily evokes both familiar Swedish melo-death and American hardcore and metalcore influences.
Of course, the essence of the band's overly familiar sound on 'Through Fire' can be boiled right down by its second song, the bouncy 'Pure Fear.' The ominous metal tones, bleak sentiments on anxiety and abuses of power, heavy-ass breakdowns, rapidly-picked riffs, two-step parts, eerie voice samples, and how Sam does that "now, I am, talk-ing, and now, I AM SCREAMING MENACINGLY" vocal style - this 7" is just pure, unadulterated Antagonist A.D. And it's fine; it's good! Seriously, all that's missing is the 7" containing one of those marching snare-drum intros that the band used to love a little bit too much.
In some ways, Antag, by virtue of their legacy, are one of the few acts who can get away with barely changing shit up on each release. Let's be real: no one is going into this EP thinking "boy, I cannot wait to see what the Antag guys have done differently this time around." (If that's you, damn, sorry.)
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Nothing has changed about the way Antag delivers their brand of riffy hardcore and off-kilter metalcore since the ol' days of 'These Cities, Our Graves,' What has changed, though, is the slicker and tighter production that their music has been beefed up with over the years. With this new material - both 'Through Fire' and their forthcoming EPs - being recorded in Salem, Massachusetts with Converge's Kurt Ballou, things are very well-balanced and super crisp, lending some hefty weight to the punch of these five songs; a solid new batch that is a little darker in theme and somewhat heavier in sound than where we last saw them in 2015 with their strong, mental-health-focused LP, 'Haunt Me As I Roam,' which featured more clean vocals to make for some of the group's best refrains, like on 'For Anyone That Hurts.' (But unlike that particular record, there are zero guest spots to be had on 'Through Fire.')
'Gates Of Hell' is a vitriolic kick to the teeth, a great yet haunting new Antag piece about animal liberation and inhumane practices, inspired by the horrible reality behind the award-winning 2018 doco, Dominion. The song's galloping hardcore drum patterns and it's older, Swedish death metal inspirations - the kind that permeated early Antag - are all alive and well on this savage first cut; hitting so bloody hard when Sam viciously screams in the outro: "they're banging on the gates of hell, bang bang bang bang!" Elsewhere, 'Bloom,' with its feedback dripping dread, thrashy pace, sweet pinch harmonics, and classic Antag grooves, was a real highlight, seeing Sam growl about impermanence: "the flowers bloom, just to wither and die, what a beautiful lie."
Lastly, nothing about my initial positive opinion has changed regarding the double-whammy of 'No Justice' and 'A.P.M.D.,' so there's no need to repeat myself here about 'em. It's crystal clear as to why that pair were first used as Antag's returning singles back in 2018: they're fuckin' solid hardcore tunes! That pair is right up there with 'Paul Allen,' 'Coffin Keeper,' and 'Homesick' as some of the band's finest work over their entire career. Yet that's also the caveat with this EP: two-fifths of this release are almost 18 months old by now. Which isn't uncommon for hardcore bands to do, but it does make this new EP feel not as fresh, and, well, not as "new."
I don't think Antagonist A.D have a bad record to their name, and that doesn't change now with 'Through Fire.' This five-track effort is just classic Antag, baby! Their schtick of modern hardcore sound mixed with an old-school ethic was awesome fourteen and twelve years ago when 'These Cities, Our Graves' and 'We Are The Dead' respectively dropped, and it's all still solid fun right now in 2020. But I do also feel that if we are to receive a couple more EPs this year from Antag, then just getting more of the usual will lose it's luster once it's been spread out over the course of 12 or so months.
That said, 'Through Fire' is a band grimly reflecting with their music the harsh image of a cold and cruel world that's gone astray. Which is what attracts us to bands like Antag. It's that crazy world outside our doors that puts listeners on a path towards music like metalcore and hardcore: it quiets the noise coming from not just the world, but that war raging within our skulls, if only for a time. Shit, Australia is on fire (donate to our firefighters if you can) and WWIII could be upon us, so let's listen to some heavy music to not feel so damn depressed.
Gates Of Hell
'Through Fire' is out Friday, January 17th.