The words "atmospheric black metal" tend to conjure up a very specific sound and aesthetic, whether it be rooted in Cascadian, French, or Brooklyn soil. It's the sort of phrase that means everything and nothing at once (which is probably why music writers, myself included, find themselves reaching for it so often). A band like Antlers neatly illustrates why the phrase so often falls short—because, while the German outfit's latest effort is absolutely soaked with atmosphere, and they most certainly play black metal, there's so much more to them than that.
The band (which is also occasionally known as NTLERS) is still a fairly new prospect, but comes across as remarkably confident; in the span of three years, the Leipzig quartet have managed to develop an impressively cohesive, focused sound that cherrypicks some of extreme metal's most compelling flavors, and turned out exceptional results. I know this sounds hyperbolic, but I cannot stress enough how much their new album, Beneath.Behold.Below, has impressed me. From blasting opener "Theom" to the rippling "Nengures" to the epic textures of "Beyond the Golden Light" and blasting tremolo of "Off With Their Tongues," the entire album is a seamless exploration of progressive but faithful melodic black metal, with scattered shards of doom and death appearing as a studied afterthought. It's no surprise to see that Ván Records is releasing it, either—they fit perfectly into the label's high-minded, quality-obsessed catalogue.
It's relentlessly aggressive, as one might expect, but the melodies here provide the meat of the songwriting; Antlers approach the two disciplines in a bombastic, impassioned 90s style (think Windir, or early Emperor) in a way that somehow feels fresh and new again, despite its traditional roots. All said, it's an excellent album, and one that I truly hope won't fall between the cracks.
Listen to Beneath.Behold.Below in full below, and snag it from Totenmusik (CD) and Ván Records (vinyl) come April 6.
Kim Kelly is submerged on Twitter.