Review: “Sage of Shekhinah” by Contrarian

Mixed by Neil Kernon (Jeff Loomis, Cradle Of Filth, Nile) and mastered by Alan Douches (Greg Puciato, Hath, Converge), the fifth album from Rochester New York Progressive Technical Death Metal masters Contrarian is one for which the band are claiming to have steered with a more organic approach, going against the grain of genre stereotypes with nuanced composition and subtle production. What that means in reality only time will tell but it seems an interesting claim none the less. What we can say without doubt is that guitars (Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason exclusively play ESP) were recorded by Doug White at Watchmen Studios in Lockport NY with Bill Bodily engineering bass recordings and drums recorded at Solitude Studios PA…

As you may expect given the title there is a Middle Eastern flare to the opening of “Sage of Shekhinah” that gives it an eclectic and perhaps even eccentric feel before Contrarian turn everything up to 11 and shout “fire in the hole!” before letting rip with some razor sharp and technically awe inspiring Death Metal riffs. From that moment onwards the cut tears down the blue skies with plague wind like vocals emanating from the throat of vocalist Jakob Sin, for who this record is the first with the band, while new drummer Alex Cohen provides a whirlwind of percussive battery. Despite the skull crushing adventures in the seven seas of Technical Death Metal, there is also a strange catchy nature to this beast from the black depths which feeds the soul as it dances across the cerebral cortex. “In Gehenna” is similarly eclectic in it’s approach with layers of quirky nuance catching you off guard at every turn in the dungeon torture chamber hell which this collective of Death Metal musicians call home. No matter the starting point, no matter how crazy the idea, the band not only pull the metaphorical rabbit out of the hat, but make it seem effortless. The leads and solo on this one are stunningly vibrant despite the bowel clenching, throat shredding vocals and incendiary rhythmic battery, which is perhaps at odds and yet works so well together. So while “Ibn al Rawandi” should sound like a nightmarish vision, the complexities of it with harsh whispers and popping bass bleed outs ensure that there is so much more going on and at times its more than the human brain can cope with. That serves to fuel the longevity of the offering as you’ll keep coming back to it and in doing so hear something you missed the last time or time before that.

The mid point of the album is “The Guide for the Perplexed” which channels Between The Buried And Me and The Faceless in a rip roaring cut which proves to be heavy you don’t necessarily need oceans of distortion and a crushing guitar tone. Instead Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason use cleaner tones that mean you can hear every note and then showcase their abilities to wear down the fretboard with some incredible dexterity. Virtuoso doesn’t even come close to describing some of their abilities. The melancholic and almost mournful feel of “Zabur of Satfiyah al Shamal” puts Contrarian into avant-garde territory as Alex Cohen shines behind the kit with some incredible fills and odd time signatures that mesh together perfectly with the shredding guitar work. A demonstration of prowess, the soloing on this one is the absolute Chef’s Kiss as Contrarian give bands like Obscura a run for their money. But here’s the crazy thing. The bass is as warm as oven fresh bread and so underpinning the frantic and frenetic riffage there is a soulfulness that is rarely heard elsewhere. “Apollonius of Tyana” has the feel of controlled chaos as it plays out, the vocals the only element that doesn’t have the organic jam room performance vibe to it that all the other instrumentation seems to have. The energy is pure lightening in a bottle and how the musicians manage to avoid this sounding like a train wreck is something that defies logic. “A Madman From Island Patmos” brings things to a fitting conclusion with a flaming extended solo rising above the technical riffage like a phoenix while some seemingly Jazz inspired freedoms smash against the shores of Death Metal [8.5/10]

Track Listing

1. Sage of Shekhinah (ft. Michael Paouris, Bouzouki)
2. In Gehenna
3. Ibn al Rawandi
4. The Guide for the Perplexed
5. Zabur of Satfiyah al Shamal
6. Apollonius of Tyana (ft. Jack Eaton, Bass)
7. A Madman From Island Patmos

Sage of Shekhinah” by Contrarian is out 17th March 2023 via Willowtip Records and is available over at bandcamp.

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