Like Liam Neeson’s grizzled ex-CIA agent from Taken, Sweden’s Antichrist are possessed of a very particular set of skills, except their skills are focused on creating an authentic facsimile of the speed/thrash zeitgeist of the early eighties. Sinful Birth – the band’s follow up to their debut record Forbidden Worlds – isn’t some creatively-bankrupt homage nor is it a cynical cash-in by a band using nostalgia to stave off the rot of irrelevancy. No, this is the genuine product, a record exhumed from a musty time-capsule, unperturbed by modernity. For you flat-earthers with your calendar pinned to “1986,” read no further. Strap on your bandoliers, slip on your studded-leather armlets and proceed without rest until you have bought, borrowed or engaged in mortal combat to acquire Sinful Birth. As for the rest of you hemming and hawing about whether this album necessitates the parting of currency from wallets, read on.
The idea of devoting oneself to a single notion made me think of “The Hedgehog and the Fox” by Russian/English philosopher Isaiah Berlin. Published in 1957, the essay took its title from an ancient quip from poet Archilochus that states “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.” Berlin used this as part of his assertion that thinkers can be lumped into two archetypes: hedgehogs, who double-down on one big idea, and foxes who weigh the value of many. This outlook ricocheted in my mind as I listened to Sinful Birth, an album unburdened by experimentation, content to violently thrash about to the exclusion of all else. This is by no means a bad thing, as Antichrist are ponies that have mastered their one trick.
“Savage Mutilations”, like its name would suggest, is a filthy barrage of buzzsaw-riffs, relentless drumming and dyspeptic vocals. This track, along with the warbly “Under the Cross” could easily pass for material found on an early Slayer album. Vocalist A. Sunesson rasps and yelps like a man possessed, sounding like the bitter offspring of Cronos and Tom Araya. Indeed, on many an occasion I was expecting to have “Hell awaits!” screamed at me. The pace on the album is unrelenting – music designed to whip horses into a lather – but that doesn’t mean the songs are without careful composition. “The Black Pharaoh,” a grubby, decrepit track, shifts midway from unremitting toil to burbling horror, following up an ominous laugh and tolling church bells with a hypnotic, gut-churning solo. There’s no doubt that Antichrist suppurate with talent, and what better way to display this fact than a towering, 10-minute instrumental epic? “Chernobyl 1986” opens with a military tattoo and a menacing, see-sawing riff, only then to build layer-upon-layer until the climax fades out to the chitinous clicking of a Geiger counter. What makes the track so arresting is that beneath the surface of searing solos and churning chords lies a sorrow that laments the horror of nuclear sickness.
Retrograde music deserves a retrograde production, and for the most part Antichrist deliver on this front. The instruments are coated in a viscous muck but still maintain enough separation and clarity that every thwack from the kick-drum is capable of caving-in your solar plexus. It’s disappointing to report that the mix is a tad hot, which makes finding the spot between muffled dynamics and ear-piercing volume an onerous task. This is the only blemish that prevents the album being indistinguishable from one conceived thirty years ago.
My criticisms are few and stem primarily from the record’s reluctance to deviate from anything that isn’t fast, loud and unrepentantly aggressive. Personally, I enjoy it when thrash bands stop to smell the roses, doling out measured numbers such as “Call of Ktulu,” “Dead Skin Mask” and “In My Darkest Hour.” These moments serve to break up the rancour and allow fatigued ears a moment’s respite. Antichrist have no truck with this attitude, their vision of the future being a boot stamping on a human face – forever. This is purely a matter of preference, and as I outlined in the introduction, not an issue for those who covet such a dogged approach. With Sinful Birth, Antichrist have fashioned a crude wickerman built from the sclerotic bones of Slayer, Venom and pre-Dickinson Iron Maiden that burns with an unquenchable fire. The band may be hedgehogs but thankfully their single-mindedness has borne fruit ripe for the taking. Just don’t expect to be surprised.