Anti-God Hand – Blight Year Review

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Beginning with “Out Of The Tunnels, Into The Heavens”, the new album from Canadian black metal band Anti-God Hand leers into frame with crystalline, vintage synths ascending in scale before bursting to life with an ostinato guitar arpeggio undercut with rhythmically dizzying drumming. It immediately separates itself from “Forest Outpost”—the opener of debut Wretch—through its more pronounced melodic sensibilities. The song also illuminates Blight Year’s increased focus on dynamic composition, unsurprising given the musical pedigree from some of those involved with the record.

First making a splash in the underground through a very productive 2021, Anti-God Hand presented the larval form of a sound attempting to invigorate the atmospheric pastiche of many Canadian black metal bands—specifically the Quebecois scene—with the heaviness and angularity of disparate hardcore offshoots; it contained trace DNA of holy terror hardcore, mathcore and sludge, stretched and distorted into something distinctly Anti-God Hand.

The sounds of Wretch as well as Endless Excavated Earth—their 2021 debut full length and EP, respectively—were brimming with promise and potential, though clearly a project in relative infancy. The trappings of reified, progressive guitar still surrounded the records, solid as they were. Blight Year represents the final point of their complete, chrysalis transformation, resulting in one of the best metal records of the year.

Part of the aforementioned musical pedigree is established by contributor Colin Marston, who offers his hand as both producer and musician, providing the synthwork found on “Out Of The Tunnels, Into The Heavens”. Marston’s most seemingly obvious musical connection to Anti-God Hand would be through his work in experimental and acclaimed black metal project Krallice, but I find the most kinship to be apparent in his work with the left-field avant-garde outfit Behold… The Arctopus. A similar intensity, angularity, hostility and aural oppressiveness dominates the mix of both projects. Drumming is provided by rhythmic wizard Greg Fox, best known for his work in experimental outfit Zs, transcendental black metal project Liturgy, and electronic titan Ben Frost. Both men are representative of the subtly experimental through-line running through Blight Year, a record whose understated uniqueness belies what to me is one of the most interesting albums of the year.

“Barge Of Light” begins with a little clean guitar arpeggio motif that’s retained with layered instrumentation after the track bursts into life. The start-stop guitar gives way to a serene break with clean instrumentation and subtle pad-work in the back of the mix. This is followed by “The Horde At The End Of Language”, the most vicious, belligerent and immediate track on the record, a track that almost acts as both agitated, cathartic release and a clear point of delineation between itself and its influences. It’s the most confrontational track on the record, a moment where Blight Year both has its cake and eats it, too. A moment of a clear, transparent “get fucked” sentiment, directed at what your ideas and expectations had been so far.

“Endless Brightness” is as searing and apocalyptic as the title suggests. It illuminates that despite the records relatively bright, clear production, there’s this malignant, alienating undercurrent in its delivery. Truth be told, Blight Year took me many attempts to fully get through, despite being neither especially long (clocking in at a quite lean 35 minutes) or abrasive. But “Endless Brightness” encapsulates this off-putting difficulty I initially found with Blight Year, a track with a burning quality, that despite its melodic undercurrent, hits the ears in a shrill way.

The shortest track on Blight Year, “Demon Sniper” brings to mind Converge and Assück as much as it does Sorcier Des Glaces. Frenetic, staccato, ramping in intensity and energy through a final stretch of bludgeoning repetition, it’s the album at its most primitive and its most succinct. The following track, “Warped And Opalescent Swords”, cools things down with an opening filled with melodic, dueling lead guitar work that gives way to a sinister, slower-paced track that’s the most in-line with their debut of any song on the record.

The sound of the final three tracks illustrate a very unique atmosphere for what is nominally a black metal record. It seems a weird comparison to draw, but I’m reminded of the final few minutes of Godfrey Reggio’s film, Koyaanisqatsi. A project self-described as “cosmic”, throughout much of Blight Year there’s this initial air of transcendence, of shooting for the stars, of overcoming inhibitions and restriction, but it’s then tempered with reality and failure and melancholy and coldness, and the subtle balance between it all.

The album was recorded following project mastermind Will Ballantyne’s experiences of working in the blazing heat during the summer paired alongside financial trouble—knowing this, the album is imbued with a sort of bitterness, not misanthropy exactly but a specific feeling of exasperation. Images of rising temperatures and inflation, of man-made destruction and self sabotage. And so I’m reminded of the ending of Koyaanisqatsi: of a rocket shooting for the stars, of a catastrophic malfunction and subsequent explosion and nosedive, its landing never shown. When final track “Held” comes to a close, it does so tiredly and without ceremony, stopping sharply and letting the fading echo of guitar distortion bring the album to a close.

Despite my impression, the recording was an act of emotional catharsis. “When I recorded these songs, I was talking to myself,” Bannatyne says. Despite how broad and universal the record feels in scope, it’s juxtaposed with subtle intimacy like that. There’s emotional release to be found in between the aural assaults, and maybe a bit of hope if you’re searching for it.

Blight Year is as strong a sophomore effort that you could hope for—in an ideal world, every follow-up would be as singular.

4.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Blight Year is out now via American Dreams.

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