My memory isn’t what it used to be (i.e. it totally sucks most of the time; I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast and I actually forgot my own birthday a few years back), but I distinctly and vividly remember where I was when I first heard some of the most influential albums in my life. For instance, I was on a road trip to Indiana when I first heard Radiohead’s Kid A, an album that would be massively influential in the development of my musical taste. I was at a friend’s house when The National’s Boxer slew me for the first of what would become dozens of times. Metallica? In my backyard on a swing, listening as …And Justice for All blared from my neighbor’s garage. Death? On a morning run in the fall several years back. Elbow’s The Seldom Seen Kid? Yup. System of a Down’s Toxicity? Naturally. So on and so forth. There’s a fairly limited list of bands that have had so profound an impact on my musical evolution that through the fog of my dwindling memory I can recall my first encounter with ease.
Toronto’s Thantifaxath occupy a similar space in my brain. And they deserve it, because they just so happen to be one of the most unique, sonically relentless, and utterly captivating bands in extreme music.
The band’s debut record, 2014’s Sacred White Noise, was a revelation for me. Seldom had I heard such seemingly contradictory sounds come so wildly and successfully together. If you are unfamiliar with the band and their sound, I strongly encourage you to stop reading this review, grab your headphones, and immediately purchase this record. It is a whirlwind of excellence, filled with ominous keys, screaming guitars that ascend and descend in pools of unbearably audacious madness, thunderous drums, and choral arrangements that are far from background filler, but literally essential sonic components that envelop entire songs in a shroud of dread. This was new stuff for me when I first heard it, and I ate up every last deranged morsel and begged for more. I’ve been begging ever since, and now my supplication comes to an end with the release of their new EP, Void Masquerading as Matter. Let me put it plainly: Thantifaxath released one of the best debut recordings in extreme music that I have heard this decade, and now can lay claim to an equally stalwart follow-up release. This is everything the band does well, done even better. In short, it’s a masterpiece of modern avant-garde black metal.
One of the most striking aspects of Thantifaxath’s music in general is its seemingly chaotic nature. The music churns, slices, and bludgeons its way through key changes, riff progressions, and musical motifs like variety is as essential as breath and water. But this is only a surface observation. Digging deeper into this music, one finds distinct melodic and percussive patterns that give each of these tracks a clear sonic cohesion that makes each song a singularly disconcerting yet dissectible endeavor. “Ocean of Screaming Spheres” is a perfect example of this, as the riffs come at the listener in a frightening barrage that is so overwhelming that it would be easy to define it as noise and leave it be. But the more you allow the track to unfold, the more ingenious, varied, and obviously methodical it becomes. What starts as a frenzied maelstrom eventually becomes a meticulous composition filled with as much attention to minute detail as a David Fincher film. Thantifaxath take composition seriously, with their songwriting cues most closely associated with bands like Deathspell Omega or Batushka (particularly in the choral elements). They are most closely associated with the former in unpredictability, as the EP’s opening track descends into a frenzy before dropping off the map almost entirely, as a forlorn and haunted piano interlude interrupts the utterly bananas display of the moments prior, only to once again ascend in a rush of speed and mania that brings the composition to its spellbinding conclusion. It’s a masterclass in unsettling songwriting, and that’s only the first track.
Void Masquerading as Matter consists of only four tracks, but at over 35-minutes in length has the heft and thematic cohesion of a full-length record, allowing the band to explore in-depth some adventurous territory. Genre qualifiers eventually fall to pointlessness when discussing the sounds Thantifaxath create. Some death metal vibes can be picked up in “Self Devouring Womb”, while “Cursed Numbers” holds some chords so dang long that one would be forgiven for thinking they were listening to a doom track (though this mirage quickly dissipates as the band launches into another delicious sequence of mid-tempo riffs and generally manic guitar wizardry that are some of the heaviest on the entire project). But it’s the final and title track of the EP that serves as the real showstopper. What this track contains is a choral arrangement that lasts nearly 8-minutes. No instruments. No electronic atmosphere. Just human voice. Imagine attending a Roman Catholic mass with a deranged chorus riffing on the soundtrack of The Witch and you’ll get somewhere close to how magisterial and terrifying this track sounds. Much like “Gasping in Darkness” from the band’s debut, the title track comes so far out of left field that it’s hard to determine how to process it. Is it magnificent? Is it pretentious? Does it even fit into the record at all? Yes. No. Perhaps both. You be the judge, but it without question displays once more the band’s insane level of ambition, and ends the EP on a truly haunting note.
Even in a year as fantastic as 2017 has been for quality extreme music, it’s still fairly rare to find bands, albums, and sounds that are categorically special and truly memorable. Sure, there is a veritable overflow of incredible records being released by a myriad of bands across the various branches of metal, but many of these albums peddle sounds that are familiar, although impeccably written, performed, and produced. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, mind you, and I welcome excellent music wherever and however it can be found. But few are the bands that transcend this territory into the rarified air of unique excellence. Thantifaxath are one of those bands, and their new EP Void Masquerading as Matter is perhaps the single best work the band has released. A year-end highlight not to be missed.
Void Masquerading as Matter will be released 11/24 and is available for pre-order on Thantifaxath’s Bancamp page.