Antarticus - Antarticus (BLUE) (LP)
Catalog number: STONEBURNER RECORDS
This progressive stoner rock band (and yes, it's Antarticus rather than Antarcticus for no reason I can provide) from the 'Great White North' of the Yukon territory of Canada has an intriguing set of influences but they aren't always the ones we might expect for a Canadian prog rock power trio.
Sure, Loc-Nar I (Den of Earth) demonstrates the Rush influences that had to be in here somewhere, but mostly in the transitions between sections. Elsewhere, it's more traditional seventies rock with some oddly modern vocals at points. There's a vocal escalation late in the song that sounds a little Rage Against the Machine and the responses in the chorus almost sound like nu metal shoutbacks. Remember when Evanescence stole Lacuna Coil's sound and added trendy shoutbacks in the chorus of Bring Me to Life? Well, imagine if that wasn't annoying.
Wöld War is a more overtly stoner rock track with the inevitable Black Sabbath influence apparent. However, it's less directly taken from Sabbath here and more filtered through Cathedral, not only because of the vocals, which are unrefined but delivered with real enthusiasm. The choruses and faster sections sound very Cathedral.
Lord of the Change has similarities but the delightfully active bass of Mack Smith betrays how much Budgie enter into the equation. At points, I was trying to figure out if he was more trying to be Burke Shelley or Hawkwind era Lemmy. As the title suggests, Cosmic Exile tries to answer that question and it ramps up the Hawkwind space rock vibe that came in on Lord of the Change.
The keyboards evident in the intro that is Crystal Cavern return for Curse of Kings and here's where the album becomes most interesting. Thus far, it and the songs in it have felt very short. The first five do take up eighteen minutes between them but they race past as if they were only ten. Here is the point where Antarticus decide that it's time for a track that runs ten minutes on its own. Well, two of them, because Stoneburner does the same.
Once past the keyboards, Curse of Kings sounds retro-futuristic, in that it feels like they're a band from 1978 who are trying to imagine what 1982 might sound like. There's some Iron Maiden and Diamond Head in here too, though it ends up firmly in an early Sabbath jam. Stoneburner remains very NWOBHM, but it also surprises with what sounds like a talk box, the sort that Peter Frampton made famous on Frampton Comes Alive.
The greater song length works well here, giving the band room to really breathe. Suddenly the earlier four tracks (I'll ignore the intro) start to feel like ideas that will later be developed into longer songs.
This is so unrelentingly unfashionable that I simply have to stand up and applaud. This is Antarticus's debut album and there's a real rawness to the production that suggests that they recorded this in one take and on primitive equipment. I don't mean that it's bad production (though I have to point out that Stoneburner is oddly quieter than the rest of the album), because it's admirably clear, but it has a vibrancy that usually comes from albums that were recorded live in a studio on four track or eight track desks. Think the first two Sabbath albums but clearer. This sounded less like an album to me and more like a live set the band delivered on my desk for an audience of one.
This is the best unfashionable album from 1978 that I've ever heard which wasn't recorded in 1978. As far as I know.
By Hal C. F. Astell