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ANTESTOR - Omen (Limited Run Vinyl)

Antestor (“testify”) is one of those bands which has stood the test of time and has remained committed to their form of musical art and metal expression while simultaneously refusing to bow to the pressure to compromise their core faith in God. One of the privileges of reviewing reissued music – in addition to re-experiencing the greatness of the music – is the opportunity to “revisit” a band’s history and musical heritage. Formed in 1990 under the name Crush Evil, Antestor was really the first band to push the message of hope in Christ into the Norwegian extreme (mostly Satanic black metal at the time) scene. Miraculously, despite heavy persecution, threats of death and pressure to quit, God carried them through the past few decades of live performances (sometimes under violent protest) and – despite numerous line-up changes and production delays – the release of 4 full-length albums. And while Lars “Vemod” Stokstad (guitars) is the only original member, there has been a consistently high quality of musicianship and innovative extreme metal with every release.

The subject of this review, of course, is album #4 which has now been released on vinyl for the first time as part of the Limited Run Vinyl series. For those not acquainted with the basic features of the series please refer to the reviews of Bride, Sacred Warrior and Deliverance which have already been posted. Omen was originally released in 2012 as a 10-song collection of songs that have best been described as extreme metal – a powerful blend of black, death, doom and progressive metal with some folk elements. Here are some thoughts from my original review circa 2012:

“Norway’s innovators of Christian black (“unblack”) metal are back with 10 new songs for fans that have long been waiting since the 2005 release of The Forsaken. Dark and heavy, these tunes are rife with passion and sincere confessions amidst a cacophony of blistering guitars and speedy drums. As a whole there is quite a lot to digest, but unlike many black metal releases, there is a mix of tempos and rhythms here and each song is captivating in its own right – evidence that great care was taken to craft good music and not just to rehash old styles or produce an album that would fit within the narrow confines this sub-genre of metal sometimes demands. While not as technical as Extol, Antestor does nevertheless pummel the listener with layers of guitars (3 of them to be exact) and the blasting of new drummer Jo Henning Børven. Vocalist Ronny Hansen (Grave Forsaken) handles most of the lyrical content which focuses on themes of redemption/salvation/deliverance from anger and hatred/in-justice.”

The surreal cover artwork has been re-colored for the vinyl reissues (pictured above) in a manner which enhances the eerie multi-limbed “piper” apparition which I’ve read the band considers a reflection of the darker elements of the human spirit. Fortuitously, even though the vinyl disc colors in this series are random, the purplish/brownish swirl (pictured) ties in well with the current and the original cover colors. This reissue also includes an 8.5” x 11” two-sided insert with artwork on the front and lyrics on the back. Unfortunately, due to space/duration restraints only 8 songs could be included with the vinyl, “The Kindling” and “Tilflukt” dropped. This is a shame because “The Kindling” is a wonderfully dynamic song, one of the more progressive Extol-like tracks on the album, and “Tilflukt” is an instrumental featuring fiddle and acoustic guitar.

In order to best describe the enhancements the vinyl format brings to the music I actually did an A/B comparison of the songs from the 2012 CD (ripped to “lossless” FLAC files) with the vinyl songs, both “played through” with no EQ or enhancements added by the same amplifier/receiver in my system. As would be expected with most digital translations, the FLAC songs from the 2012 master are quite a few decibels louder than the analog vinyl. One of the aspects of the original that I didn’t like was how much treble presence there was to these songs. Now I am aware that particularly in the black metal genre this is desirable, but I could never help think that if these songs were decompressed some – with less narrow-band loudness – that it would really unlock the beauty and the power of Antestor’s extreme metal music.

Two observations: First, I was surprised that even the FLAC files still induced significant listener fatigue after about 5 minutes – the treble so evident that at high volumes Ronny Hansen’s voice seemed too shrill … to the point of distortion. The bass was better with lossless FLAC when compared to the CD version, but I still had to turn down the volume after about 5 minutes. However, I was able to not only appreciate a warmer, more bass-expanded sound with the vinyl, but I was able to keep the volume at the initial high listening level for the entire duration of Side A. Second, everything – the instruments and the vocals – just sounded better on the vinyl. Mostly importantly, the mid-tone tom punches and bass drum notes had more resonance on the vinyl. Similarly, Hansen’s voice had a deeper tonal quality with less shrill and the words were more discernable throughout! Fascinating, folks, but this is the beauty of vinyl! And credit to Rob Colwell for making these songs sound this good.

"The riches of this world are but vapour, towers ready to fall/In the valley of death we are all beggars ... All flesh will rot, all hearts will stop ... Will we look for embers of humanity in the ashes of the empires brought to justice" - "All Towers Must Fall"

The opening chords of “Treacherous Domain” are just so ominous, the mix is full and this doomy track now has plenty of bass. Harsh vocals are juxtaposed with lower growls in perfect balance. The toms are thunderous on the drum fill that opens “Unchained.” I absolutely love the middle section of this song as things slow and the clean vocals appear for the first time followed by a melodious guitar solo. As the album progresses, I can’t help but think of the early Extol sounds (Undeceived era) largely due to the presence of dynamic contrast and variations in styles and rhythms along with a few guitar solos and clean vocals interspersed. The opening track of Side B, “All Towers Must Fall” is insane, and the tones emanating from the speakers have this classical guitar lead melody over top of the frenetic drumming and vocal catharsis.

If you a fan of highly innovative extreme metal, and you love the sounds of vinyl, make sure to pick up Omen HERE as these 100 units will sell-out quickly.

Side A

1. Treacherous Domain (5:33)

2. Unchained (3:56)

3. In Solitude (4:34)

4. Remnants (6:01)

Side B

1. All Towers Must Fall (6:48)

2. Torn Apart (4:19)

3. Benighted (4:52)

4. Mørkets Grøde (6:00)

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