On their debut offering, London's Antlered Man showcased the prog-influenced sounds of a mental breakdown which took in influences as diverse as The Cardiacs and System of a Down. In places, this was an awkward and meandering record which had its moments, but overall struggled to show the band's full potential. On their second offering, Antlered Man have focused their sound a little bit and the results are staggering.
On 'This Devil Is Them', Antlered Man rely much less on winding, long epics and more on cacophonous bursts of brutality. This is demonstrated quite clearly on album opener 'The Ballad of Hamhock Fullsleeve' which opens the album with three and a half minutes of staccato guitar riffs and an absolutely punishing drum workout. Later in the song, falsetto vocals come in to sprinkle a little weirdness over the top. To say this is a more focussed album only covers it to a certain extent: this is a band who still sound like absolutely nobody else.
The punishing oral assaults continue with the riff frenzy of 'GDZ' and the brilliantly dissonant 'My Surname, My Cum', but elsewhere on the album Antlered Man experiment with their formula. 'Ian Will Break Again' is an intense, brooding and claustrophobic song with more ideas crammed into the length of an average pop song than most bands manage in their entire careers. 'Phoney Tough' sits on a lurching riff that would sit comfortably on a Mastodon album before the outro builds up with layers and layers of guitars and vocals to peak as one of the album's best moments.
Of course, on 'This Devil Is Them', Antlered Man have not entirely stepped away from the long prog epics. The two centrepieces of the album are 'Claude The Ideal Bloody Gentleman' and the ten minute 'Audition Tapes for Hades'. The latter song trades on a slow burning, repetitive and dreamlike refrain for six minutes before finally the flood gates open and all hell breaks loose. If the first six minutes are enough to test your patience, the release in that moment is a worthy pay off.
What Antlered Man have delivered with 'This Devil Is Them' is an album that delivers on their talent and promise. They have become one of the strongest and most exciting bands on the British underground scene which is flourishing at the moment. There are so many great bands and labels bubbling away quite a distance from the mainstream that a little digging can uncover a great wealth of staggering music. Long may it continue.
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