Album: The Antagonist
Every great story is defined by two characters—a mighty, relentless and unstoppable hero who is cancelled out by a villain who is just as sinister as the hero is superb. Think Superman; for every act of remarkable courage Clark Kent completes, Lex Luthor is lurking in the shadows, plotting an even more sinister scheme to derail the Man of Steel. No matter how hard Superman might slave away at ridding the world of Luthor’s evildoing, Luthor returns, more vengeful and vicious than before. In this respect, Luthor is The Antagonist; the ne’er-do-well namesake of Indiana’s Villisca—the closest thing to veritable villains that American deathcore has to offer. With each track sounding more hate-filled and hard-hitting than the last, The Antagonist is one of the most aggressive, bitter and brutalizing release imaginable, with no figurative protagonist to stop it from wreaking non-stop havoc upon the listener.
The Antagonist uses every weapon in the comic book villain’s arsenal to scald, scorch and slice the listener into rubble. Instrumentally, Villisca are at the top of their game, lashing out with a lurid combination of technicality and no-holds-barred brutality. This is best seen in “Braxtan’s Struggle” and “Hippocampus,” both tracks showcasing the dynamic fretwork of guitarists Trent Limburg and Levi Stonebraker. While one chugs away in deep, dark tones, the other splashes vivid—yet dissonant—riffs and solos overtop, creating a unique sort of heaviness that is neither slow and monotonous nor lightning-quick and overbearing. Instead, Stonebraker and Limburg work as a dynamic duo, held down by the rollicking low end of Nick McKinley’s bass guitar, to herniate the listener’s spine, pressing down on it with the force of ten steamrollers. However, even when Stonebraker and Limburg aren’t letting loose with a crushing cavalcade of chugs, they are far from unremarkable. Moments like the surreal introduction to “Layers” and the climax of “Order 66” showcase the two’s penchant for grimy, groovy guitarwork, as it dances atop Michael Powell’s bouncy, booming percussion. While Powell beats and batters away at his drum kit, Stonebraker, Limburg and McKinley terrify the listener with truly tyrannical grooves and riffs, proving that Villisca aren’t just a one-trick pony of punishing heaviness.
When Villisca aren’t crushing the listener with remorseless instrumental rhetoric, they are busy scalding the listener with acrid, acidic vocals—courtesy of Albonne Blakley. Blakley has a simply perfect range, and is capable of letting loose with lightning-quick, razor-sharp screeches or guttural bellows that sound as if they are the burps of Satan himself. When Blakley isn’t brutalizing the listener with either end of his expansive vocal spectrum, he is more than capable of hitting practically every tone and style in between. Here, the listener’s attention is directed to the album’s title track, or the album’s debut single, “Layers.” On both of these tracks, Blakley hits skyscraping highs and ninth-layer-of-Hell lows, but also holds down the track with a solid, stocky mid-range yell and just barely intelligible gasping growls. Blakley’s vocal presence throughout The Antagonist adds to Villisca’s already villainous dynamic by making the band just that much more evil. Where they were already instrumental juggernauts, driving fear into the listener’s heart, Blakley’s vocals work with the already-existing dynamic to take it one step further, tearing out the listener’s heart and taking a bite or two.
Whether it’s the climactic shift from soul-shredding solo to soul-stealing breakdown in “Last Breath of Man” or the pure misogynist hatred in “Braxtan’s Struggle,” The Antagonist is a comprehensive lexicon of lurid, life-robbing evil. Blakley’s vocals keep perfect time with Powell’s punishingly quick candor throughout the album’s faster parts—especially on “Layers”—yet manages to dip down as low as McKinley’s marvelous basswork throughout the grimier parts of “Order 66” and “Exodus De Gentibus.” All the while, Limburg and Stonebraker refuse to let up, swinging away like dual sledgehammers at the listener’s sanity, slowly breaking away every bastion of normalcy that they might have known. By the time The Antagonist is through with the listener, they will know neither peace nor quiet, as they will be constantly suffering from voices of evil, singing along with the ear-splitting sound of dying sound receptors echoing in their corroded mind.
If you ever needed a compelling reason to join the dark side, let Villisca’s debut full-length album do the convincing. The Antagonist is a marvel of modern deathcore, combining gory grooves, blitzing blast beats and crushing heaviness that will be sure to hit just as hard the tenth time as it did the first.
For Fans Of: WolveXhys, Dealey Plaza, King Conquer, Oceano, Thy Art is Murder
By: Connor Welsh