Pantokrator are back, bringing their refined take on melodic death metal with Marching Out of Babylon.
Formed some 25 years ago in 1996, Pantokrator have taken their time in releasing music but despite a relatively small catalog, the band has built a reputation as one of the elite in melodic death metal, coming from Sweden where the genre is well established. Starting in 2003 with Blod, the band has gone on to release only 3 other full length albums, Aurum (2007), Incarnate (2014) and now Marching out of Babylon (2021). During the intervening years, there were demos, eps, splits, and appearances on compilations to keep the band from being forgotten. For those wondering about the pedigree of band members, several have come from the likes of Crimson Moonlight and Sanctifica. As if that weren’t enough, Marching out of Babylon was mixed by Jani Stefanovic (Miseration, Solution .45) who also plays a solo on “Crossroads” and features Rebecka Gustafsson on vocals for the title track, “We the People”, and “Phoenix Rising”, Mund (Skald in Veum) adding vocals on “Phoenix Rising”, and CJ Grimmark (Narnia, Savior Machine) adding a solo to “Wedlock”. The band indicates the album was actually recorded over several years in several locations across Sweden with lyrics written from 2001 to 2019, perhaps not surprising for a band that has been around as long as Pantokrator.
Almost as if the band simply couldn’t wait to get to the music, Marching out of Babylon wastes no time jumping straight into “Day of Wrath”. A fast, heavy riff, accompanied by ultra-fast drumming from Rickard Gustafsson kick the song into high gear. Throw in a melodic chorus section into the track and Karl Walfridsson’s gruff, raspy shouted vocals and you have a great introduction to Swedish melodic death metal. Production is very good, to the point that Gustafssons drum work is clearly heard in the mix which in and of itself is amazing at times to hear the faster than a machine gun bass drumming.
“Wedlock” opens up with a lone guitar riff starting the song and lending a feel much like older Antestor in some ways to the point that I would have thought it was older Antestor. Even Spotify sees the connection, offering the Antestor track “Treacherous Doman” as one related to Pantokrator. For the verses the riff settles into an almost pounding rhythm while the bass drum goes at full speed. The song itself shifts from pummeling to melodic to driving and has a clean chorus that accentuates the overall changes in the song structure. CJ Grimmark’s guitar solo is at times mournful and slow and blazing in other parts and works very well within the confines of the song while still showcasing creativity.
“Crossroads” is more straightforward in approach and has an almost groove feel to it although there is that death metal darkness in tone that makes is a bit unique. Again the clean chorus vocals that are brighter than the rest of the song add good texture and contrast and much like CJ Grimmark, Jani Stefanovic is given room to showcase his guitar work but still stays within the structure and feel of the song. The more I listen, the more I realize that Gustafsson’s drum work is exceptional and that Walfridsson’s vocals are a perfect fit for the style. So with that in mind, just insert a glowing mention of the drums and vocals in every song described.
“Marching out of Babylon” show the band taking a slower, more methodical approach although the drums are often going forward at breakneck speed. Parts of the song almost have a doom feel as the plod along, destroying everything in their path with the heaviness. The choral parts in the song fit exceptionally well and add a nice flair to the overall feel, while not really lessening the overall impact.
“Hidden Deep” again reminds me of older Antestor, while “We the People” pulls out all the stops in nearly four minutes of raging metal that gets right in your face and never leaves right down to including parts of a Martin Luther King Jr. speech. The sonic onslaught ends with “Phoenix Rising” which again brings a more plodding, pummeling doom feel and finally give some room to showcase bass guitar work from Jonas Wallinder in some sections. Interestingly, the band manages to craft a song that shifts effortlessly from plodding to parts that are reminiscent of black metal and then end with an acapella choral outro of “From my ashes like a Phoenix,I will rise, like the Son”, and have it all makes sense to the listener.
Pantokrator have produced an album that lives up to the expectations one would have knowing the pedigree of the band members and the time they have had to work on this since their last release. High expectations will not bother a band that generates metal of this quality. At times beautiful while at others powerful and challenging to the listener, Pantokrator have lived up to an exceeded expectations in Marching out of Babylon.
Written by John Jackson
1. Day of wrath
4. Marching out of Babylon
5. The last cheek
6. Hidden deep
7. We the people
8. Phoenix rising
Jonas Wallinder – bass
Rickard Gustafsson – drums
Mattias Johansson – guitar
Karl Walfridsson – vocals
Jonathan “Steele” Jansson – guitar
“Ancient Path – Unclean Plants” [Demo] 1997
“Even Unto the Ends of the Earth” [Demo] 1998
“Allhärskare” [EP] 2000
“Songs of Solomon” [EP] 2001
“In the Bleak Midwinter” / “Songs of Solomon”[Split] 2001
“1997-2000” [Compilation] 2001
“Blod” [Full-length] 2003
“Leviathan” [Single] 2007
“A Decade of Thoughts 1996 – 2006” [Compilation] 2007
“Aurum” [Full-length] 2007
“The Initiation” [Single] 2010
“Incarnate” [Full Length] 2014 (review)
“Marching out of Babylon” (2021)
Release Date: 29 Jan. 2021
Record Label: Nordic Mission
Video for ‘We the People’
Lyric video for ‘Crossroads’