(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.
I found myself thinking that if Andy Synn likes this I probably won’t. I am quite happy I decided to ignore my oppositional thinking and listen to a couple of tracks because this is really cool stuff.
Nothing personal, I just tend to dislike most of the stuff you review!
Brilliant review, I was sold before I got the end,
Fantastic tension on this, felt like a rope being stretched from either end
breaking strand by strand, to be finally held by a single fibre
Only to be spliced together again,
My kind of music that! Cheers
I like that metaphor very much. So much in fact that I may steal it.
Something about this album reminds me of the Vassafor album that came out a few years ago. (Obsidian Codex)
Maybe its the length, or maybe just the mix of oddly disturbing sections mixed with the suffocating grit of black metal tyranny.
Either way, its a big nut to crack and I have yet to find myself with the time enough to digest it.
Especially with Nuklear Frost (among many others from this fine blog) continuing to win all my ear time.
Great review though! Makes me want to reprioritize my listening schedule, stat!
What got me about it was how it flits between oddly disturbing and strangely beautiful. It positively shines at times… just not in a way that’s necessarily pleasant.
Pretty good stuff, but it feels WAY too long for me. Kinda like how I felt about The Wolf Of Wall Street.
Well I DID warn you at the start.
Also I’ve not seen that yet. I need to check it out.
Nice album, but to what degree of artisitc references does it still make sense to speak of creativity and when does it turn into mere recycling? Cover art: Ascension. Music and Lyrics: the comparision to Secrets of the Moon is essential for this album; singing, composition, choice of words, song structures, almost all the elements i’ve heard on the last three SotM albums. For sure, SotM have their references as well, but although SotM is one of my altime favorites I feel repelled by this degree of borrowing and would almost like to speak of plagiarism. At least I cannot hear how all these borrowings are fused into something unique. Dispensable, I would say.
Sweet! This had been on my list of releases to look out for (literally, I keep a text file on my desktop!). But obviously I let the release date come and go and forgot about it. Obviously I haven’t made it all the way through yet, but my ears are loving what I’m hearing.
I applaud your organisation. Mine’s just in “Sticky Notes”.
85 minutes? Sweet balls! A double album? Damn. This task seems a bit overwhelming, but based on this review and the descriptions, it looks like it needs to be added to my purchase list. This will be quite an undertaking, but seems completely worth it.
I’m enjoying my double albums at the minute. Celeste’s “Animale(s)” is still in frequent rotation as well.
This is a good band, but seriously lacking character; I cringed many times with the direct appropriation of Deathspell Omega tropes (which is very a often a problem in modern black metal, you know, the B-Rate DSO feeling) and of the rest of the “orthodox” bands. While technically perfect, it doesn’t yet have the same uniqueness of spirit that bands like Ascension bring to the table (interestingly, I Freudian-slipped here and initially wrote “temple”). Like the “let’s make a band” thing, with very good musicians. Also, the atmosphere seems too monotone and unchanging for such a great length. Parts here and there and the last huge song do show a greater personality and hopes for the future though. Def needs a second spin.
Interesting. The more I listened to it the more I felt that the DsO references were actually rather subtle, a matter of underlying influences, rather than anything “direct”.
I actually find it much more interesting than “Consolamentum”, and I AM a definite fan of Ascension. Of course that may just be a matter of personal preferences.
Still, I feel you’re selling the album short. I think the atmosphere varies nicely, swells and ebbs and creeping chills. And I think it has a unique sense of cold beauty. That’s why I rate this one so highly. It’s a beautiful album… darkly beautiful. And I think the dissonance and heaviness only serve to enhance that aspect.
Great review. It’s definitely not too long, especially with the diversity and detail in this. The organic vocals are epicly sincere in their message. Everyone of the musicians in this band are top notch, showing so much control even in the most insane sections.