With a name like ANTIPOPE, you’d expect maybe something like BEHEMOTH – blasphemous black-metal ripping holy books to shreds either literally on stage or, at least, symbolically in the lyrics. The name derives from the hierarchies of the Catholic Church – an antipope (Latin: antipapa) is a person who claims the position of Bishop of Rome, in an unjustified manner, I reckon. Hailing from Northern Finland, ANTIPOPE did actually start out as a black-metal outfit, releasing their debut EP ”Scorched Heavens” as early as in 2004. Since then, they have incorporated a whole lot of new layers into their sound, ranging from Gothic doom to progressive and industrial even. The band seems to venture on a somewhat similar musical path as the extreme proggers, ENSLAVED. I couldn’t be more thrilled at the band’s choice of metal conduct – the latest studio offering by these Norwegian prog-Vikings was pure gold. ANTIPOPE‘s new album, ”Apostle of Infinite Joy,” was released on 21 February 2020 via the US label, Fertile Crescent Productions, and it presents these metal experimenters at their most melodic, progressive, and esoteric.
Staying true to their black-metal roots, ANTIPOPE sweep their extreme prog-incantations wrapped in the savage fury of the untamed woodlands in the Arctic. The album title is a reference to the religious group called The Apostles of Infinite Love that was founded by the self-proclaimed Pope Clement XV under the inspiration of some dubiously tagged ”unknown messages” from the Virgin Mary herself. Maybe we’re dealing with a bunch of natural-born heretics here after all, but the blasphemy is much more subtle and musically exciting than the next stereotypical ”trve kvlt” penguin-metal outfit would be accustomed to. ANTIPOPE‘s previous album, ”Denial/Survival” (2018), was a collection of songs written mostly prior to the band’s 4-year hiatus, radiating with the aura of a greatest hits compilation of sorts. The new album picks up where the previous outing left off, further cultivating the band’s unique blend of extreme metal. Up until now, these northern metal miscreants had flown under my musical radar and coming across a new metal acquaintance with such a refined and eloquent law of conduct as ANTIPOPE sure feels like stumbling across a treasure trove.
The first quiet wah wah-ruminations and ominous whispers create an atmosphere of impending doom in the intro of the album opener, ”Harbinger of Dawn.” The muttering hobgoblin vocals give off a cautious aura, a sense of getting jumped at any second – something which the song’s chorus eventually does. The song assaults you in such a magnificent way you simply cannot resist a smile creeping across your mouth. How come I hadn’t heard from this band before?! As a hopeless devotee of the more darkly shaded sub-genres of metal, I find ANTIPOPE‘s harsh incantations simply hypnotic.
There is something beckoning in the dark as the third track, ”Intoxicating Darkness,” confirms. It’s a song that regards darkness not as a stressful experience to be feared and avoided, but a pleasurable one to be sought out; we humans are a weird bunch of complex multicellular organisms with the unique ability to convert fear into pleasure (and vice versa) and ”Apostle of Infinite Joy” is a splendid album to put that philosophy into practice. It sounds like a tormented heart looking for true happiness but inflicted with the kind of melancholy that cannot be happy-ed up. Even the album’s title track paints a grim picture of the devout practitioner of ”infinite joy.” Angular, old-schoolish guitar riffs clatter in your ears like the devil’s laughter.
On ”Natural Born Heretic,” the band finally comes clean about its underlying motives to claim the ultimate priesthood reserved to the Pope. They’re heretics, after all, looking forward to seizing the throne of dying gods with the flourish of blast-beats and angry guitar riffs celebrating this grand inauguration. The drums are blast-beating you senseless so magnificently it might make you wonder whether your head is pounding from yesternight’s drink or the song’s relentless riffing. After such a metal punch-up, even breathing might feel like a chore.
The rest of the album plays out according to these same tenets, with the band’s progressive black-metal aesthetics stemming from the confluence of BEHEMOTH and ENSLAVED – with a unique, northern twist, of course. ”Venereal Ritual for Dispersion and Reintegration of the Soul” even has a bluesy section that sounds like the vocalist is drowning in a river of whiskey, clutching at the last straw sticking out from a glass of Bacardi-cola and then, the album closes with the track, ”0=2,” postulating differential math of the esoteric kind in a somewhat KVELERTAK-like manner. The post-rockish mid-section is charged with such piercing melancholy that ”strangely alluring” does not even begin to cover it.
In their own enticing way, ANTIPOPE makes a contribution to the new school of progressive black-metal with their new album ”Apostle of Infinite Joy.” They look into the abyss with eyes as black as the void in a quest for sonic jewels. It looks like apocalypse is in the making and the future is fading like a flower. Maybe we all should engage in the strenuous exercise of lashing our ears with quality metal in various blackened shades of prog – just to retain vigor. Wolfing down ANTIPOPE‘s new album in one fell swoop feels particularly revitalizing.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- Harbinger of Dawn
- Natural Born Heretic
- Intoxicating Darkness
- Apostle of Infinite Joy
- Red Goddess
- Venereal Ritual for Dispersion and Reintegration of the Soul
- Serpent of Old
Mikko – vocals, guitars
Antti – guitars
Tuska E. – drums
Joni – Bass
Fertile Crescent Productions