Of all the adages that exist to roll my eyes to the back of my head, “expect the unexpected” might be the worst. I hate that kind of axiomatically incorrect, cryptic bullshit. But, in a roundabout way, it does hold true. During even the most lean of musical years, a small part of me always perseveres in the hope that, just maybe, an album will come along, entirely off-radar, and take me by surprise. Sometimes, I even wonder if these records exist in abundance in some kind of alternate reality – an Antiverse, if you will. It turns out the nexus to said ether resides in Minneapolis, and has once again delivered another blow to the senses in the form of Under the Regolith. Antiverse are a band I have no previous history with, but allow me to ruin the surprise when I tell you that their second album has all but guaranteed a future relationship.
When quantifying an art form so fluid in nature, it’s often a challenge to find a suitable genre descriptor for ease of explanation. Antiverse play a kind of meloblack/death hybrid filtered through the prism of a serious thrashing. As such, massive riffs and a penchant for melody all combine with a palpable exuberance to deliver their meld of mayhem. Fans of Thulcandra, Skeletonwitch and even King Diamond will find plenty to enjoy in Under the Regolith, such is the breadth of its compound. It is true that the material isn’t overtly original in its composition, but the songs are so well-honed, it honestly doesn’t matter. This is propulsive metal that never forsakes impact for sacchrine melody, or forgoes musicality in the face of base bludgeoning.
Antiverse are clearly adept in the art of musical anatomy. Each song features a calcified core of rhythm before a nervous system of melody entwines with a muscular field of instrumentation. “Hallucigenia” and “Ghostwinds” both indulge in dual harmonies, but with an alternative approach to pace. The former roars into life with a blazing thrash riff, while the latter slows things down for a more deliberate crunch. Each is effortlessly memorable. The blackened flavor is ever-present in the melodies, but particularly prevalent in “Crimson Codex” and “Derelicts,” whose combined tremolos recall the increasingly melodic direction of Jon Nödtveidt’s legacy. What truly stands out is Under the Regolith‘s capacity for layering. The album’s transitions are immaculate, and this comes down to the band’s determination to build on each song’s central riff, mutating and manipulating the guitar lines throughout so that every individual cut evolves into a familiar but undeniable crescendo.
My complaints are few and flexible, but the band’s songwriting prowess doesn’t always extend to the album’s pacing. The record’s most blazing fare is stacked tightly up-front, and I would have preferred the likes of “Black Waves of Sorcery” – a ripper if ever their was one – to have been better mingled amongst the album’s less ferocious second half. The mix on Under the Regolith is mostly complimentary, boasting enough room to accommodate Jason Bauer’s1 bass, but I can’t say the same for Mike Paradise. His ably performed drumming drowns in the mix somewhat and suffers from a neutered production. Fortunately, guitarists and joint vocalists, Carl Skildum and Matthew Kirkwold, manage an effective balance between their performances. Although their styles are similar, their delivery fits the material’s bold sense of narrative and brings to life dramatic cuts like “Subject Six” with the song’s final roars of “I know what you did to me…” This chemistry closes the album perfectly on “Shunned House.” The song is a fitting end to the album’s horror themes and channels Them era King Diamond with an assortment of retro keys that perpetuate Petersen’s influence with a clear desire to entertain.
Antiverse have slipped between the veil to deliver a late contender, and it packs a punch. If you are somehow averse to magnetic songwriting that riffs without pretension and combines melody with taste to unavoidably engage the neck, then I’m not entirely sure metal is for you. Under the Regolith is packed full of quality and class and has earned the band a coveted spot on my radar. As 2018 prepares to draw to a close, don’t let it go gently into that good night without first sampling the delights this antimatter annihilation has to offer – the disaster dimension demands its price.