The Phantom Tollbooth
Artist: Antestor
Label: Morphine Records "Pre-release" cassette
Time: 9 songs/unknown

I was pretty excited to get Antestor’s album Martyrium in the mail. Having heard that they play a form of black metal, and enjoying my recent exposure to that genre and its influences on metal bands, I really wanted to hear what Antestor had to offer.

The only release of this album is a pre-release cassette from Morphine Records. The full release on CD never came about, and quantities are very limited (possibly already gone). I have no idea what the future plans of the band are regarding any re-release of this material, but I did hear a rumor that they are working on their next album. There are no lyrics included with this cassette.

Antestor had three songs on the Rowe Productions compilation Northern Lights--“Mercy Lord”, “Thoughts”, and “Inmost Fear”. The versions on Northern Lights may be the exact same recordings as the ones here; if not, they are very close.

As the first song on the tape started, I was a little bit disappointed. The music seemed overly subdued, with everything mixed too low. This was only my initial reaction, however. I have been listening to this tape a lot since then, and my opinion of it only gets better and better. Antestor plays a very artistic form of black-influenced metal. There is a lot of beauty and intensity, and a wide variety of speeds in these nine songs. The music has some doomy moments, but is mostly mid-paced to fast, while never quite reaching blistering speeds. There is one instrumental and one doomy “praise” song with lyrics seemingly taken from Psalm 51. Amid the standard metal instruments, they effectively make use of some keyboards and piano. Variety characterizes the vocals as well--along with screeched and rasped, almost whispered black metal style vocals, they incorporate some well-placed clean male vocals,  beautiful female vocals, and even some lower death style growling.

"Thoughts" exemplifies their great song structure. It starts off with a very mellow, pretty flute-like keyboard melody. Added to this is a more menacing keyboard part that warns of the intensity to come. Slowly the double bass becomes audible, pounding away, and finally the guitars take over the melody formerly played by the flute-like keyboard. The main body of the song is a killer black metal piece with excellent moods, cool drumming, and some nicely layered black and death vocals. Near the end, the guitars go back to that melody as a female voice sings along, using her voice as an instrument. This fades away and the flute-like sound finishes the song. Very well done!

I highly recommend this tape to anyone who enjoys the extreme side of things, but is not afraid of beauty in the midst of intensity. I am very close to giving this a five out of five rating...

By Chris King (8/15/98)