Record Label: Nordic Mission
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Release Date: January 29, 2021
Album-length: 42 Minutes
Day of Wrath
Wedlock (feat. C.J Grimmark)
Crossroads (feat. Jani Stefanovic)
Marching Out of Babylon
The Last Cheek
We The People
Phoenix Rising (feat. Mund)
At the end of 2020, I found myself returning to my love for hardcore music, particularly of the melodic variety. I’d gone back and listened to some old favorites and had discovered some new (and a couple previously overlooked) albums. I figured that trend would continue into the New Year. Then Pantokrator kicked down my door, pushed aside a bunch of albums, and settled into my player as if they should have been there the whole time.
Pantokrator is a band that has somehow flown under my radar for many years. I had thought I knew who they were and wasn’t going to bother paying attention to their latest release Marching Out of Babylon. In fact, in a series of messages with our site's founder, I came to realize I’d mixed Pantokrator up with Drottnar. So when I was asked what I thought of the new release I wasn’t all that excited to give this a listen. Well, if I need to be wrong about anything, I’m pleased to discover I’m wrong about the quality of a band I’ve never given a chance.
Pantokrator is a Swedish melodic death metal band (though I’ve also heard symphonic death). Don’t let that description fool you though, this is a band that lays the foundation with death metal but they liberally sprinkle plenty of other influences throughout this release. The album blasts straight out of the gate with Day of Wrath, they waste absolutely no time getting to the heavy. The double bass hits like a hammer and sets the tone for what is to come. Thankfully also right from the first song, we are treated to touches of those other influences I mentioned. The song has a melodic chorus that changes the tone of the song enough for it to never get monotonous in its relentless heaviness. Wedlock follows with a slowed-down guitar riff that builds into a plodding chug. The song proves that you don’t need to go super fast to make a song feel heavy. There’s a fun arabesque guitar that comes and goes till the roughly three-minute mark of the song when the first of the clean vocals pop up on the album and a more power metal sound creeps in, further highlighted when about thirty seconds later there’s a power ballad type guitar solo from guest Carl Johan Grimmark of Narnia (and many other bands). The power metal inclusion is an interesting choice. I was at first taken aback by it but quickly realized how much more depth this adds to their songs instead of just having a typical death/thrash metal screeching guitar solo. I absolutely love the intro to Crossroads! They return to the hard-hitting by wearing their love of thrash on their sleeves. I would almost go so far as to say it has a touch of nu-metal to the cadence, though this may just be the crossover sound that late 90s thrash had with the early days of nu-metal that I’m hearing. Again on this song they don’t just settle for that, adding in more of the power metal type guitar work (maybe this is where the symphonic tag comes from). Add in another guest solo from Jani Stefanovic of Miseration (Solution .45, The Weakening, Zhakiah and again many other bands) and you have yet another well thought out, fully formed song. The titular song is the most epic of the album. It starts off with the sounds of rattling chains and marching giving us a cinematic feel. Once again, several stylistic changes throughout the song seamlessly interweaves to give a sense of actually going on a march out of oppression. The sequencing of this song is close to being one of my few critiques. It very much sounds like it ought to be the final track. It has an epicness throughout that ends and rolls right into the movie credits. Yet there are four more songs to go. What I did notice is that I believe this choice was deliberately made with the vinyl release in mind as this song closes out the first half of the record.
There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said about The Last Cheek; it’s a full-on thrash song that really hammers home the aggressive message they’re going for. This being the kick-off of the second side of the record further cements the idea that the songs were sequenced in a two-act set. Hidden Deep follows the pattern established on the first side by giving us a slowed down second song. There’s a Goth, doom-like quality to this song. You could add an organ to the mix (which they didn’t) and it wouldn’t stand out at all. We the People picks the pace up again. It doesn’t go all out like Last Cheek does, but it keeps a driving pace. It brings to mind a Motorhead comparison, if Lemmy had ever thought to experiment with some symphonic elements. Phoenix Rising ends the pattern with another epic song. It begins with an acoustic sounding guitar intro that leads into a doomy slowed down thrash sound. They weave the intro guitar back in and end with a choral singing that while not quite as epic as the ending of March, does do a great job of taking us home. I want to make special note of the drumming. The near-constant double bass makes sure that there is never a moment, even on the slower songs, where this album feels like it’s dragging. He also always seems to adapt to exactly what the song requires, whether it’s the subtle fills to start Hidden Deep or the punk-like thrash drumming on songs like Last Cheek and Crossroads.
Vocally, this album walks the line between being super consistent and impressively dynamic. The lead vocalist, Karl Walfridsson doesn’t attempt to have a crazy range and mix all kinds of vocal gymnastics, but clearly enunciates everything he growls and never sounds out of place. I want to compare him to Joe Duplantier of Gojira. Plus if you feel as though the vocals might get boring, ask yourself if you’ve ever heard anyone complain about Gojira’s vocals and there you have it. What complements the solid death vocals are the power/symphonic clean vocals. They appear in different ways throughout the songs. Sometimes being the main attraction on the chorus, other times being incorporated in a call response to the lead, and finally at times being layered with the leads to gives us a wonderfully haunting feel. I almost wish there were more of these cleans, but the more I think about them the more I realize their restraint allows them to serve as a nice spice, not overpowering but enhancing the main course.
Lyrically, Pantokrator takes us to a few different places. Wedlock is Song of Solomon esc, blending a death metal love song with praise to God. Hidden Deep speaks to God and Jesus’ majesty both in their immensity and mystery. March Out of Babylon and Phoenix Rising both mix Eschatological imagery to paint pictures of moving out of tribulation into freedom, be it in the here and now (March) or after death (Phoenix). Crossroads uses some creepy imagery to tell a story of coming face to face with Satan (or perhaps a major demon) and We the People is a call to stand up take responsibility and make your voice be heard. I wanted to save both Day of Wrath and The Last Cheek for last because they both touch on an interesting theological idea. Both songs delve into the idea that those who persecute believers will get their comeuppance. What I find most intriguing about both is that Pantokrator handles the topic in a self-aware manner. All too often it’s easy for songs like this to come across as tough guy/macho threatening (and there is still some of that here) but in these songs, there is an acknowledgment of the fact that as followers of Jesus it is not our place to dole out those punishments, but it is instead God’s place. It’s refreshing for a band to remember that we aren’t called to fight, at least not in a physical sense, while still recognizing that the reminder that all will be set to right is much needed.
"But I will give you what I owe (raise up the banners men of God) the finger and the dust that i return (cut all your bonds, go through the arch) as I am marching out of Babylon.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on the Earth as in Heaven, Thy kingdom come." - Marching Out of Babylon
This album is a masterpiece! I was enjoying it so much even two songs in, that I immediately messaged my editor to tell him how much I was enjoying it and to lay claim to the opportunity to review it. It has been quite a while since I ventured out of the “core” genres and Pantokrator was exactly what I needed as a reintroduction to the world of extreme metal. Their ability to blend different styles in a cohesive whole and mix seemingly disparate vocal styles sets them apart. Add in a clear bold message about loving the Lord, standing true in the face of persecution and the ultimate reward promised and you have an album that is going to be difficult to top in 2021.