It’s a sub-zero January night at The Spacebar, and the three men of The Black Antler are gearing up for the final slot in a lineup full of some of Columbus’s heaviest hitters. It’s so bitterly cold that muscles ache, shivers turn to seizures, and a regular smoke outside seems like punishment rather than leisure. In the course of my interview with the band, I theorize that such harsh environs breed dark, aggressive music. The band contends that they’d be the same band if they were based in Southern California, but there is something to be said about the parallel of long Ohio winters and the thriving metal scene Columbus has nurtured in the last decade. There’s a “survival of the fittest” mentality, a healthy competition that challenges each new group to be louder, faster, and more brutal than what has come before it—at least that’s what The Black Antler’s recently released disc 100 Wolves throttles the listener into believing.
Then again, The Black Antler shy away from being compared to the lineage of Columbus legend. With Teeth of the Hydra, Deadsea, Struck by Lightning, and our current overlords, EYE, metal in Columbus has endured myriad shifts, enough that it has fragmented into a handful of glyphs both difficult and easy to lump together. The new album faithfully includes it all—there’s the confrontational thrust of thrash, the arcane bleakness of the blackest Scandinavians, a bit o’ doom when necessary—yet the EP sounds like none of the above. It’s a quality that can be attributed to founders Adam Lowe (guitar and vocals) and Alex Weinhardt (drums) kicking around in indie bands like Six Gallery and Teeth on Teeth before gravitating toward their unified love for hardcore and forming The Black Antler as a duo in 2009. The missing link was a bass player, that void filled when Ryan Moya joined to complete their brutal tri-force. Even as the band evolved into what it is today, there was never a desire to create only “metal,” since the group’s affiliations and influences run the gamut.
Mixing metal with hardcore and nerdy angles adds some diversity to the scene, says Weinhardt. “We don’t just consider ourselves as part of the Columbus metal scene or the hardcore scene. We’re all friends with a bunch of other different musicians in different types of bands, so we like to think that we’re more a part of a larger collective.”
Indeed, what sets them apart is their dedication to find a nexus of extremes, be it the raw with the meticulous, the blunt and sharp, or grunting and screaming when they’re being overtly literate. Go beyond the larynx shredding vocals, read the lyrics, and there’s nerdy intrigue in what Lowe aims to promote through The Black Antler’s hyperprose.
“We try to keep it from being preachy or extremely personal,” said Lowe of the band’s lyrical balance between the political and the terrestrial. “I try to be more out and about, to be more attainable for everybody and reach a broader audience.”
“the reason why we do this is because it’s a release. It’s a way to let out energy and anxiety during this time of year when you are cooped up in your house.”
Understandably, 100 Wolves, even with its basic delivery, is conceptually designed. There are calls for the head of the now-deceased leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps (on “Beheaded/Dethroned”), and lobbyists portrayed as bloodthirsty canine on the title track, “animal instincts,” and the “iron law of reciprocity.”
It’s fundamentally a record teeming with Man versus (Fill in the Blank) conflict. “Medicate” even posits Lowe’s lifelong struggle with asthma against humanity’s existential battle against Mother Nature. (A sample lyric: “fill my lungs, half full, half empty/it’s like a snake wrapped around a snake, wrapped around me.”) Toward the end of our interview, we’ve come full circle. Inherently, Lowe and The Black Antler’s ultimate concern is how nature, and those who choose to disrupt nature’s cycle (i.e. politicians, bigots, religious zealots), is out to get us. When it comes down to it, being in a band with this much aggression is just another way to combat nature’s merciless stranglehold.
“If anything, the reason why we do this is because it’s a release,” said Weinhardt. “It’s a way to let out energy and anxiety, and definitely during this time of year when you are cooped up in your house, you don’t see the daylight and you can’t go outside and simply run around to do that. This is our way to release that energy.”
“Certainly when it’s a frigid tundra,” concluded Lowe, “you’re not going to write about happy times.”