(Andy Synn reviews the second album, released late last month in Europe, by the Swiss band Schammasch.)
Oh how I have fallen in love with this album. All 85 fantastic minutes of it. Over the course of nine songs, straddling two cds, the music on Contradiction combines elements drawn from some of my all-time favourite artists – the primal riffage of Keep of Kalessin, the pained rhythms of Deathspell Omega, the brooding darkness of Secrets Of The Moon, the impious grandeur of Behemoth – into, something utterly spellbinding.
Yet despite the references I’ve made above, Contradiction is still very much its own distinct entity, the culmination of an ambitious vision, far greater than the mere sum of its parts. Although the band’s underlying DNA shares many strands in common with the Black Metal genre, the music they produce interbreeds and interweaves elements from across the metallic spectrum, a natural synthesis of dissonant sounds and disparate styles all combined in one bold, enlightened display of unbound creativity.
The first disc of this epic undertaking begins with the ominous swell of “Contradiction”, which builds slowly from echoing eldritch notes and whispered vocals, through teasing ripples of acoustic guitar and tense, sober drums, to an ebon conflagration of primal power. The drums beat out a heaving, martial cadence atop which lurching blackened riffs and nimble Spanish guitar melodies writhe and coil in succulent rapture. The second half of the track is heavier, more aggressive, and more disturbed, yet continues to strike a captivating balance between creeping dissonance and scintillating melody in a manner quite unlike anything I have ever heard.
The doom-laden, adversarial grandeur of “Split My Tongue” is up next, its bone-grinding guitars wrapped in a smoldering cloud of eerie, inhuman ambience. The raw, choking vocals and strange, post-human melodies wield bleeding hooks and oppressive atmospherics, building to a grim finale as the song spirals into the abyss, blazing brightly even as it descends into the dark.
The bone-jarring, Triptykon-esque guitars of “Provoking Spiritual Collapse” build layer upon layer of dissonance and harmony into a foundation of strange, bestial beauty. Their driving force and crippling malice – augmented by a demonic display of frenzied, clattering drum work – combine into a dizzying display of blackened doom aesthetics and cathartic emotional torment, climaxing in a beautiful moment of heartbreaking melodic clarity.
“Until Our Poison Devours Us” is a desolate procession of clanking death metal guitars and hypnotic blackened melodies, entwined with whispering traces of eerie disharmony, a deviant exaltation whose back-breaking despair is touched and tormented by faint caresses of sweet acoustic purity.
The first disc ends with the dissonant death spell of “Crown”, a bizarre and unsettling piece of sinister euphoria and unearthly ambience that sets the stage for “The Inner World”, which commences the second disc with a steady downpour of caustic, acid-drenched guitars and insidious, poisoned melodies, set to a pulsing heartbeat of rattling drums and rumbling bass lines.
The song’s raw, snarling vocals and searing, electrified riffs bristle with complex, compulsive hooks, weaving their tormented magic over thirteen feverish minutes of cursed intensity and distorted, spectral vibrations, transitioning from mordant doom to inverted ambience to corrosive blackened power.
With its monolithic chorus refrain and piercing fangs of poisonous progressive melody, “Serpent Silence” at times recalls Secrets of the Moon at their most adversarial and aggressive. A cold-blooded conjuration of venomous beauty and animalistic malevolence, the song’s sinuous coils of brooding reptilian riffs wrap themselves around the listener in a lethal embrace, culminating in a breathless cessation of life and warmth.
Simultaneously dream-like and nightmarish, “Golden Light” marries irradiated, dead-star ambience and unsettling, occult glamour in a ceremonial death march of clashing, ruinous riffs and grim, asphyxiating vocals, driven by ravenous patterns of distorted drum beats and frenzied blasts.
This leads the listener to the album’s devastating finale of “Jhwh”, a blackened invocation of hope and horror, embodying every aspect of the band’s fractal vision and amalgamated soul. Over the course of seventeen minutes the song pushes and tests every boundary and limitation, unleashing a raging torrent of abrasive riffs and apocalyptic drums, swept up in stellar streams of transcendent melody and crystalline ambience.
Irreverent and antagonistic, beautifully metaphysical yet bristling with menace, the music of Schammasch denies categorisation in a way that only the most creative Black Metal can do. A contradiction in more than name alone, it combines unstable forces and unpredictable elements in strange, new ways, using the energy of opposition to feed a constant process of creation and destruction.
There’s a fine line between genius and insanity. This is an album that tests the very fabric of that line.
Contradiction is available for order now on CD and vinyl via Prosthetic Records (order here), and it can also be downloaded at Bandcamp. It was recorded and produced by Triptykon’s V. Santura and features cover art by Valnoir of Metastazis Studio in Paris. Stream the entire album below.