Despite the almost infinite amount of things you could do with the various instruments and tools at your disposal, there will always be cynics amongst us who claim that there’s nothing new to be done in music – everything is a rehash of something else. In a way there’s a truth to it, but the patchwork nature of some of the world’s more experimental recordings surely makes an indisputable case for the opposite. In truth, even established genres and subgenres that have existed for decades have not explored all the angles, and it’s certainly possible to innovate whilst keeping your feet planted primarily in a singular camp. As a site devoted to forward-thinking and noisy music, we’ve spent a lot of time championing bands who ignore the unwritten rules surrounding particular metal subgenres. But whilst those bands deserve recognition for challenging genre boundaries, those who innovate within a chosen genre are certainly deserving of their accolades as well.
Nottingham’s Antre approach black metal in a way that’s more dense and captivating than it is hostile and primitive, and their brand new album Void is all the better for it. The band emerged with a demo in 2017 before teaming up with fellow UK black metal innovators Underdark for a split last year, but their debut album sees them truly excel.
The band’s take on black metal owes almost as much to the hypnotic qualities of post-metal trendsetters like Neurosis and Isis as it does the icy sting of the genre’s second-wave, concocting a sound that feels refreshing despite bearing all the hallmarks associated with your average black metal album. Hints of other genres and influences rear their head throughout as the album progresses, finding new ways to swell and dissipate, but the black metal heart is seldom abandoned entirely – well-worn tropes and bouts of leftfield thinking are both here, working in tandem instead of fighting for the spotlight.
Fittingly, the more atmospheric flourishes are not those of a tranquil nature, instead bolstering the music’s distortion and dissonance to help the album’s cavernous, dread-inducing atmosphere. Piercing through even the album’s most straightforward bouts of second wave-esque black metal, though, is a subtle poignancy that is most prominently brought to the fore on the acoustic ‘Denisovan’ and ‘The Frozen Deep’. Black metal is perhaps shunned by some for a lack of variation, but Antre show that creativity and blastbeats go hand-in-hand.
Lyrically, Void explores “stories and narratives that evoke feelings of internal human darkness and destruction”, a theme commonly explored in the cosmic horror from which they take inspiration, with tracks that reference the Cthulu Mythos and Japanese video game studio FromSoftware’s brilliantly bold Bloodborne.
Eager to find out more, we had a chat with the band to get the lowdown.
Your name comes from an old English word for cave or cavern – is there any particular significance to this and why you chose it for the band?
Barry “Baz” Chadwick [drums]: We wanted a name that was enigmatic with epic and dark connotations, but that wouldn’t tie us to a specific genre. Chris suggested something relating to a cave or cavern. A few clicks through powerthesaurus.org yielded Antre (pronounced an-ter) – a word neither of us had come across before but which was exactly what we were after. Incidentally we also applied the enigmatic approach to our logo design (a stylised representation of a cavern).
The band have written, recorded, produced and shot music videos yourselves. Some bands do this out of necessity of course, but is the DIY approach important to you? If so, why?
Donny Hopkins [guitar]: Habit and necessity. Certainly Barry, Chris [Marsland, guitar] and myself have a shared history coming up in the UK hardcore/punk/crust scene and embrace the freedom that DIY presents. It also has it’s draw backs in that it’s hard work, time consuming and sometimes not all that fun.
Baz: Writing and playing the songs is just a part of the process of being in a band. If you are able, you should try to do as much as you can to present your creation to the world in it’s truest form. The only real way to do that is to do it yourself. Plus we’re nerds and we like messing about with those technical aspects for fun!
As a band who’ve recorded a split with anti-fascist black metallers Underdark, would you say there’s a political slant to some of your work as well?
Donny: I love the Underdark guys, they’re good friends and I have huge respect for what they’re doing. Music is my escape from the everyday pressures of work, struggle and politics, I don’t really want to take that with me everywhere I go. Antre is us burning all that shit away and leaving it behind for while.
Baz: The split actually came about more from the fact that we’re two bands in a similar style from the same town rather than anything of a more political nature. As individuals, obviously we know that bigotry and fascism have no place in society as a whole, but having Antre as a platform to share those views with the world isn’t what we’re going for.
Black metal is the perfect genre to tackle pessimistic themes, so it’s fitting that ‘Tyrant’ is about the destructive nature of mankind. What other themes can be found on the album?
Baz: Patrick’s lyrics are drawn mostly from dark fantasy literature, stories and games, but they can all be interpreted as being about dark subjects, mostly about the inherent darkness in all people. We feel that this complements the music themes perfectly. So I guess you could say that this theme of darkness is woven through the whole album.
Black metal has often taken inspiration from the place it was created in. Given that it was recorded in a converted chapel in a rural area, do you think this rings true with Void? How do you think the setting influenced the album, if at all?
Donny: Very little, if any, of the album was written at the Chapel. Chris travels quite a lot and I know he wrote a lot of his pieces while out in the wilderness. But mostly, we’re surrounded by brick, concrete and pollution, so those factors influenced it just as much. However, being able to get away into nature is a big thing for us, and the chapel was an incredible place to record.
Baz: I wouldn’t say the location really influenced the writing on the album much, but I definitely think the place helped to get the best out of the performances that were recorded there.
Amongst the often bleak and sometimes aggressive music are two serene acoustic tracks. What role do those moments of respite aim to play in the overall narrative of the album?
Baz: I think they play two roles really – firstly they provide a stark counterpoint to the ferocity of the rest of the album which seems to have had the desired effect with most people who have discussed the album with us. Secondly though, they are an expression of the range of styles we’re interested in.
Despite Void definitely being a black metal album, there are touches of hardcore, doom, post-metal, death and more to be found on the album, and Antre’s members have played in some varied bands with very different sounds. Do you think this wealth of different influences helped you craft an album that sounds a bit different than your standard black metal album?
Donny: Completely. But it’s not intentional. As people and as a band, we are the product of where we’ve been and what we’ve done, you can’t just say ‘stop that, put all that away, we’re in a black metal band now’. Our passion for genres just leaks out into what we do.
Baz: Donny hits the nail on the head here. Our music is what comes naturally from us. Given that we are into a range of different styles, we’ve made a record that represents the kind of music we want to hear.
As a genre, black metal can often be fairly regressive in its approach to experimentation – was it important to you to go against this in order to sound more unique?
Donny: I don’t think that’s really the case, there’s been amazing ideas implemented in black metal since its inception, you just have to search for them sometimes. I think it’s that mixed with the sheer uncompromising ferociousness of it that keeps people coming to it and as a result we’ve been able to be so open in mixing our other influences together.
Baz: It’s surprising to hear us described as experimental to be honest! It certainly never crossed my mind that we might attract that description! We’re just doing what comes naturally. I‘m of the mindset that I’m not so much bothered about what genre a piece of music is, as long as it’s interesting. A pop song that has something interesting about it would be more appealing to me than a by-the-numbers metal track. Intensity and conviction in execution will make a band stand out for me more than a good riff played with half-arsed effort.
What can we expect from Antre going forward?
Donny: More shows, and hopefully a small release (either an EP or split) towards the end of this year and another full-length at some point in 2020.
Void is out now on Withered Hand Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr