The PR blurb for London’s Antlered Man describe their new album as “dark” and “weird”. Though they might not be the most complimentary descriptors, they’re not a million miles off with that. You’d certainly have trouble boxing them up into a genre. For the sake of argument, let’s have a crack at “artsy punk/rap meets rock/sludge in an explosion of psychotic avant-garde posturing”. Yes, that’ll do.
After firing out their debut album, Giftes 1&2, last year the band wasted no time hitting the festivals and managed to squeeze in 15 last year. Fairly impressive when you consider the 100 other tour dates they managed in 2012. There’s a definite hint of the on-tour in-jokes in the theatrical writing style of this sophomore album – the song titles alone suggest that much.
They’ve definitely gone in heavier here with This Devil Is Them as the ludicrously-titled opening track, “The Ballad Of Hamhock Fullsleeve” attests. The lunatic fringe is properly out in force as something akin to Melvins meets Tool meets Tomahawk meets These Arms Are Snakes emerges like the thrashing, writhing, triple-headed, multi-tentacled behemoth it is. You try and pick which limb or mouth to focus on first out of that little lot. If the panic-stricken drum rolls and carefully-placed guitar pings don’t explode your noggin, then the gut-busting bass, twinkling chimes and unhinged vocal (which waits until well over 3 minutes to pitch in) undoubtedly will.
All too often Antlered Man ask too much of their listeners. No-one in his right mind could like the entirely dislikeable character of “Claude The Ideal Bloody Gentleman” with its dissolute, padded-out structure or the 2-minute skittish mania of “My Surname, My Cum” – a last-track “fuck you” to the listener that isn’t appreciated. Elsewhere “GDZ” oozes along the soft buzz and fluorescent tonal mix of Torche, “Ian Will Break Again” bristles like Kongh whilst speed-rapping like Senser. “Phony Tough” settles down and flies true with a beautifully-hewn groove which “Salute Da Calm” follows with an echo-laden acknowledgement to the shoegaze of Slowdive. Star of the show, however, must go to the stoned drone of “Audition Tapes For Hades” which, whilst obviously overstretching itself to reach the 10-minute mark, glows with an eerie menace as Damo Ezekiel-Holmes finds his true calling as a softly-spoken angel of death.
Lyrically, when a band is firing mucky, attention-seekers like “My surname, my cum” and “This practical genius-like yeast infection” it’s very easy to dislike them (though vocalist Damo does apologise with “Sorry sorry sorry, what a criminal last line / There’s a mean streak in me when these fuck-ups are mine!”). However, when they do pull out hooked doozies like “Sweetheart, I couldn’t protect you / No matter how hard I tried” or “Girls couldn’t hit us with a running jump, Gods couldn’t hit us with a death-defying stunt” they know to ram them home with concerted repetition.
On the plus side, the groove on this beast is vast when it settles down – the latter half of the album should please the sludge fiends amongst you. The first half will sit pretty with the punks. Most will agree, the odd burst of rapping is more for show than it is essentially integral to the music and a high degree of patience and diligent attention is required to fully comprehend their ADD-afflicted concept. With so much content packed into such a small space, like a boxer on amphetamines, it’s generally going to miss as many times as it hits.
(5.5/10 John Skibeat)