Only death is real

dB Rating: 8/10

Release Date: November 20th, 2015
Label:  Willowtip Records

Chuck Schuldiner was the Miles Davis of metal. He founded a genre with Death’s debut, and kept on innovating ’til the very end. Every new death metal band has to grapple with the legacy of Evil Chuck and his merry band of spirit crushers. But as influential as Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy remain (listen to Gruesome’s Savage Land for proof that Death in 1988 is alive in 2015), almost nobody has successfully recreated the alien elegance of Death’s latter-day masterworks, Symbolic and The Sound of Perseverance.

Guitarist Jim Tasikas and his studio project Contrarian get really close on their first LP, Polemic. Tracks like “Need for Apathy” and “Predestined” erupt with the same snaky, muscular riffs that Schuldiner was writing in the ’90s, awash in strange harmonies and atmosphere, ever-shifting in structure. Instrumental track “Retrieval” recalls the interludes from Human; even the thin-yet-balanced production goes for the classic Morrisound vibe.

Also Death-like is Tasikas’ choice of ace studio musicians to navigate his complex songs. Nile drummer George Kollias sounds liberated by the nuanced, nearly blast beat-free rhythms he gets to play here; Mithras guitarist Leon Macey spins out his customary galactic leads. The only weak link is vocalist Cody McConnell, whose monochrome growl feels out of place amidst music this colorful.

Polemic closes with a cover of Death’s “Nothing Is Everything,” and the fact that it sounds of a piece with the rest of the album says a lot. While Contrarian’s influences are obvious, they nail the sound and the spirit on Polemic. The virtuosity is in service of expression, and there’s emotional substance underlying every song. That was always the genius of Death, and so it is for Contrarian.

—Etan Rosenbloom
Review originally printed in the January 2016 issue.