If there’s a conversation deciding the current World’s Greatest Grindcore Band, then Antigama is certainly in the running. Across seven albums and many shorter releases before this one, this Polish quartet has built themselves quite a name with forward-thinking oddball grinding that borrows from death metal, hardcore, and (the good kind of) metalcore, with dashes of electronica, noise, jazz, and ambient for good measure. Really hitting their stride after returning home to Selfmadegod Records with 2013’s absolutely stellar Meteor, Antigama followed that with the blistering and blasting The Insolent in 2015, and the Depressant EP in 2017. Then, aside from one cover song in 2019 and a strong live set from the pandemic-era Global Grindcore Alliance…
What’s most interesting about Whiteout is that, for a record from a band who’s known for injecting left-turns and weirdness into the oft-stagnant climes of death/grind, it’s surprisingly light on left-turns and weirdness. In fact, it’s pretty close to straightforward, with a few subtle twists (and one giant saxophone solo at the end). Gone are the ambient segments, or the weirdo electronic deviations, or the random futuristic keyboard solos, or even any sound bites to break up the relentless death/grind barrage. Even the closing freakout “2222” is built upon a blastbeat base beneath the jazz-like chord shifts and the aforementioned saxophone wailing. Whiteout represents an oddity in Antigama’s recent catalog arc simply by being not anywhere near as odd as the rest. Even the band’s logo is toned down, less sci-fi, more… plain.
What’s least surprising about Whiteout is that it’s filled to overflowing with razor-edged riffs from Sebastian Rokicki and machine-precision rhythms from Pawel Jaroszewicz, building upon Napalm Death’s more experimental era and Voivod-ian otherwordly dissonance by cutting it all up, stitching it back together, turning the aggression factor to eleven, and letting loose a primal scream of modern-world frustrations. Lucasz Myszkowski’s formidable bellow is redolent of that of Barney Greenway – it’s an unavoidable comparison – but aside from that and the fundamental likeness of two envelope-expanding grindcore outfits, the similarities aren’t all that many, though neither band should take umbrage at being mentioned alongside the other, regardless.
But of course, what has always mattered most about Antigama’s grinding has been just that: the grinding, and not entirely the accouterments they embellish it with, even as those do offer their advantages (and at the very least, give plenty of fodder for goofuses like me to talk about in reviews like these). Opening number “Undeterminate” proves why that has always mattered most: It’s an absolute ripper of a modern grind track, with Rokicki’s guitars slicing and dicing through tremolo-picked runs and skronky chords. The intense interplay between Rokicki and Jaroszewicz has been Antigama’s strongest suit since Pawel joined the band however long ago, and that’s still the case, even without the bells and whistles around it. “Debt Pool” is almost entirely a driving blast, with some haunting harmonic flourishes and a mid-song breakdown that is one of Whiteout’s scant few concessions to the robotic-voice sidesteps of previous albums, though it’s a brief one and purposefully contrasted against the overwhelming power of the song’s skull-punching second half. The swirling two-step churn of “Disasters” offers an almost Killing Joke-ian post-punk hook, melodic amongst the decidedly un-melodic grinding beneath. “Align” is built of whirling razor blades; “Hindrance” is almost a rock song, but anything but radio-ready, savage and with another almost Killing Joke atmosphere.
Even as Whiteout is, by almost all measurements, the least weird of Antigama’s offerings since they hit their stride more than a decade ago, some moments do creep in: brief dissonant arpeggios in the crushing breakdown of “Holy Hand,” a distant AM-radio-like spoken word in “Disasters,” that damned saxophone. They’re just far more subtle inclusions, and though I’m not sure that “more traditional death/grind” was exactly what I wanted from Antigama circa 2022, I can say with all certainty that that return-to-normality is both an unexpected twist from a band prone to such and also anything but a cause for concern. I am not at all prepared to say yet that Whiteout is “as good as Meteor,” nor even as good as The Insolent — though in Whiteout‘s defense, the former of those is one of my favorite records of the 21st-century — but this is still a goddamned great modern grind record, and that’s exactly what I wanted Whiteout to be.
So, yes, if there’s a conversation somewhere deciding the World’s Greatest Grindcore Band, then Antigama is absolutely in the running. If you haven’t been convinced of that already, then here’s yet another reason why, and an absolute lock-in for a high spot on my year-end best-of list.