In a perfect universe, linguistically complementary bands like Antagonist and the Agonist would nullify each other, thus ridding us of the need to listen to either. Sadly there are glitches in the matrix, and so melodic metalcore bands can name themselves like anyone they goddamn please without fear of cosmic cancellation. The universe also spares musically redundant bands, another saving grace for Whittier foursome Antagonist, which blazes through its third full-length Exist with all the ferocity of a teddy bear — and half the originality.
Antagonist has the precision-tooled chops of a band that’s been around for a decade. You’d think a band with such longevity would be above aping genre trends or at least know how to distinguish itself. No such luck on Exist. The first four tracks juggle the variables of the screamo formula — there’s more neo-thrash riffing in “Bomb Shelter,” nastier breakdowns in “Amnesia Ln.,” a more balanced good cop/bad cop vocal ratio in the title track — but it’s all cut from the same tattered cloth as As I Lay Dying and Unearth, themselves second and third generation inheritors of the Gothenburg template laid down by At the Gates and In Flames.
As if to repent for its numbing first half, the remainder of Exist is way more varied and inspired, if by “varied and inspired” you mean “sounds exactly like several bands other than All That Remains.” We get a wholesale Deftones rip in “Failure on Repeat” with sub-Chino mutterings (“Nowhere can I be myself / If only I’d enjoy the suffering”) and maudlin strings, some knuckle-dragging deathcore bro-tality on “Immaculate Misconception,” and even a throwback d-beat jam to open up “Angels,” the one place on the album where Antagonist’s rage feels authentic.
Vocalist Carlos Garcia screams “This place of plastic / Where the fakes are so real” on “Angels.” It’s a condemnation of the privileged elite of Los Angeles, but he’s unwittingly describing his own band. Don’t be taken in by how well these guys can play or how sculpted their songs are. Search underneath Exist’s embittered teen-rallying lyrics and un-heavy, sanitized sound (producer Fred Archambault also spit-shined Avenged Sevenfold and the Confession) and you’ll find a band that has nothing to say and says it really, really well.