Latest release: Through Fire All Things are Renewed (Greyscale)Website: www.antagonistad.net

Hardcore heavy hitters Antagonist A.D. may well have the album of their career on their hands with Through Fire All Things are Renewed. Vocalist Sam Crocker certainly thinks so. Laid down in the US with Kurt Ballou in 2019, several tracks have been released incrementally as the EPs Through Fire and All Things since then. Crocker got his first listen to the album as a whole recently and is rightly proud of the result. In the wake of its release, we caught up with him to talk about the process of creation and being accused of virtue signalling.

Congratulations on the new album. It’s really everything you want a hardcore album to be.
We’re particularly proud of this one, than anything else. We really spent time on it to try and get everything we wanted out of it, I guess. I’m really happy with how it all came together.

Most of these songs have actually been out for a while now, but the way they come together on the album is very smooth and cohesive. It’s like a complete suite without any breaks.
We started writing the songs so long ago, and we started recording them in 2019. We had a different track listing for the seven inches and there was different singles at different times, with the full-length completely in mind – we recorded it as a full length and made it flow as a full length and split it up. So I kind of forgot about it, to be honest. When the record came out, I was listening through on Spotify the other day and I was surprised by how well we did it, to be honest! Just the flow through, I was like, “Oh yeah, we did that. I remember that!” It was pretty cool. With the flow and momentum – like I said, we really took our time to try to make it be something special and add more depth and whether the quotes work and how way the songs interact together.

Being from New Zealand, it must have been difficult to get together over the last couple of years.
Half of us are based in Melbourne now, so even more so! All of this was before COVID was a thing. The record was done in August 2019. We went over to Salem and did it there, and we split it up while we were there, into the seven inches and we had this quite intrinsic plan to release it all over the next couple of years, and we had all these tours lined up. We would have been busier than the band’s ever been in its entire existence, and then everything went to shit, obviously.

Having not heard the album in that complete format for such a long time, what was it that stuck out the most?
I think it was the flow. Before we would listen to the songs disjointedly. We played two of the EPs live, going in to old songs, so it kind of felt like they always existed. But listening to it as the album we intended to write it – how we wrote everything to go in here or how does it work with respect to the rest of the album – hearing it back to back and hearing it all flow into each other, just the momentum and the energy that it has, that it exists as a complete thing – it sounds like a good setlist to me. It sounds nice, it flows good. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about our other work this candidly, I suppose. I don’t usually want to give us too much praise, because it sounds a bit self-indulgent and narcissistic. But I am fucking proud of this record! We put so much into it. I’m stoked with it. I think it sounds good.

Like I said before, it’s everything you want from a good hardcore record. There’s nothing that gets in the way of getting your message across. There’s no five minute breakdowns, or anything like that. You just get in there and lay it all out.
We pulled apart every single song. It was actually quite a painful process, at times, lyrically and musically. It was kind of like piecing everything together. But that’s what happens, I guess, when you take a little bit more time with things. Another thing that came from this album is that we’ve been a band for a long time now, and if we’re going to take the time to release something, we had to be really proud of it, we had to put everything into it. We don’t know if we’ll ever record again, so we wanted to make this release something really special that would motivate us and keep people who like our band, or who’ve maybe never heard of our band, interested, and appeal to all the senses that band – all the sounds – that our band has touched in its existence. So we really tried to get all of that in there and just cut out anything that wasn’t… the amount of times we just sat there, and there was a good riff, and we’d be like, “Well it’s a fast riff, but it could be a better one”, so we’d cut it out and the song would just become something else. The amount of times we just broke a song apart and just sat there staring at a wall for ages… I’m glad we got there in the end. I’m sure we could have written this album three times over and it would have been okay, but we got there!

There’s a lot of stuff in there that, lyrically, needs to be said and you say it pretty clearly too. You’re not hiding behind metaphor.
Particularly out of all the subjects that are on there, I wanted to have a very, very, to-the-point anti-racist song, and bring out systematic racism, and for that to be the key of the song. We wrote [The System is Racist and Oppressive], I think, in 2018, and we recorded it in 2019, and obviously with everything that happened in America in 2020 and the way social media works… it’s funny. We were trying to rush that song out because we were like, “Well, it’s all happening now. Music like this and a song like this will help validate people, and help motivate people, and make an impact.” But we couldn’t get it out in time, and we ended up having to release it later. So it was funny seeing people write comments on our YouTube that said we were following whatever corporations were saying and we were like, “You guys have no fucking idea. No idea how long this has been around for.” It’s really quite sad. It’s cool how “systematic racism” as a word, as a statement, is common knowledge now, or relatively common knowledge.

Were you being accused of virtue signalling?
I had to look that one up! I was like, “What the fuck does this mean?” So I had to look it up. It’s funny because I could go down a rabbit hole of internet buzzwords, to be honest. So they were saying stuff like that, and it’s funny because people had obviously stumbled on the song, and that song in particular as opposed to anything else we’ve done. I don’t know if it gets shared but it will get posted in social media and there will be like eight comments with people saying stuff like, “I’m not racist, but what about white people?” Why? Why does a message like this make people feel like they’re being attacked? If you listen to it, it’s not even attacking these fragile white egos who are standing there getting offended by a song. I just think that it’s important that it riles people up and that it creates this tension just shows how important songs like that are in standing up for your beliefs and trying to validate other people who feel the same and they want to feel a part of the scene.

Hardcore’s always been about standing for something or dying for nothing. A lot of those bands get misunderstood. There’s always a danger of being misinterpreted but you can only say what you believe and people are going to interpret that any way they like.
I think that’s the beauty of things that fall into the category of art, and music, the fact that it’s objective, and people can take what they want from it. I think that’s really cool. I think it’s the same in hardcore too. It’s energetic and you can find some meaning in some lyrics that may not be the intention of the writer but it means something to you and that’s just as valid as the intention of the writer. That’s also why, with all of our releases, we also have an explanation that follows that explains my intention! That being said, if people want to take something positive and personal from it, that’s as they should. If people want to twist things and make it into something it’s not, they can do that too, but it doesn’t mean it’s true. 

Now the album is out, what happens for Antagonist A.D.?
The whole thing seems kind of bittersweet and anticlimactic in a way. Like I said, we had all these grand plans and we were going to do an EP and do all these tours throughout the world , and now we just want to release it. All the things we did around the last seven inch have just finished due to COVID rescheduling, just recently, and then our New Zealand show for the Through Fire release has been rescheduled to July, so we’ll be back to play that. We’ve got shows coming up to celebrate the release with some cool bands in Australia, and then we go back to New Zealand with some of our friends back home. Then we’ll take a bit of a break from playing shows and work on some new music.