The French black metal scene has given us some truly great bands and releases through the years, especially of the avant-garde kind. The likes of Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord, Peste Noire, and even Alcest are still pushing out some of the most interesting and innovative metal music. This time around, it’s the French avant-garde black metal one-man project Antagoniste that introduces a début whose mission is to reach and eclipse the sonic standards set by his countrymen. How unfortunate it is, then, that the similarities between Antagoniste and those other bands end somewhere along the line of influences and comparable styles.
Because the quality just isn’t there. The Myth of Mankind is, frankly, a mess of a record. It’s “avant-garde black metal” that stays comfortably within the confines of the genre and its unspoken rules (I’ll reserve my rant about this topic for some other time). Antagoniste tries to be so many things simultaneously, piling too much of everything on top of everything else, that the result sounds diluted and incoherent. While inspirations and reused ideas clearly shine through the songs, the derivative nature of the music would be all but forgotten if it were backed by some excellent songwriting. In reality, the songwriting generally falls short of even “good,” landing somewhere in the land of “not awful.” Mildly alluring at best, usually bland, it’s hard for The Myth of Mankind to grab the listener’s attention.
If it seems I’m being too harsh, it’s because of those glimmers of potential I see hiding in the music behind walls of pretentiousness and unwarranted sonic excess. Interesting melodies, intense and upsetting droning, and meaty riffs such as those on the opening tune “The Rise of the Lightbringer,” the groovy start to “The Barren Lands,” or the goth/alt rock feel of “The Ubermensch” show that there are some basically good ideas and a broad creative range in the musician’s mind. Two of the best songs on the album are actually on opposite sides of the stylistic divide, both following the “less is more” principle, and both avoiding trying to be too clever. “The Demiurge” contains longer portions of what is essentially straight melodic black intertwined with some nice organ chords, while “The Ritual” brims with chanting and eerie vocals that almost sound as if they’re coming from a binaural recording. In contrast to these pleasant listens, shoegaze-laden tracks like the Blut Aus Nord vs. Alcest mashup “The Black Sun” or the post-metal anthem “The Wanderer” made the prospect of skipping them a bit more tempting after each listen.
Unfortunately, when it rains it pours. The execution is not without fault either. This is one of those albums that make it painfully obvious that it’s one man doing everything. Production? Botched. At moments, almost as lo-fi and demo-sounding as early black metal, it fails to capture the complexity of the material with the most conspicuous problem being the vocals which sound either muffled and distant or upfront and undecipherable. The otherwise cool and weird mixture of clean and growled vocals exacerbates this effect. Still, if you took a look at the lyrics, you’d be glad that you couldn’t make them out. Verses such as “God is Dead / Welcome to the Creator of New Values” or “Master, I believe in Thee / Master, I pass near to Thee!” show an artist that is not quite ready to elegantly tackle Satanism from a philosophical perspective à la Deathspell Omega.
In the end, The Myth of Mankind feels like an album that is pretentious without a reason. With the recent stream of really good avant-metal in the form of Imperial Triumphant, Mastery, or even the infamous but brilliant Liturgy, it’s hard to recommend this record. Only if you got a fever and the only prescription is more French avant-garde black metal, I guess. Everyone else might just as well stay clear.