Solipsism is a school of thought wherein the only true, sure knowledge one can have is the knowledge of self: in a solipsist mindframe, you can be sure that you exist, but everything outside of that can be doubted or outright refuted. The most extreme conclusion of Rene Descarte’s classic phrase “cogito ergo sum” (“I think, therefore, I am”), it’s a mindset that succinctly concludes that nothing outside the existence of one’s own mind cannot be absolutely proven beyond the shadow of a doubt to be more than a simulation or product of the brain’s self-deception.
Curiously enough, for an album that defines itself entirely on its own singular existence, there’s quite a lot of influences that are plain to hear in the sound of this first full-length release from this band. After exploding onto the scene with their debut EP, Cosmic Dissonance, in 2013, and garnering quite a lot of press and tour opportunities on the strength of the five tracks comprising that first taste of their sound, The Zenith Passage is finally ready to put forth into the world Solipsist, which continues along their established trajectory: a combination of the more melodic, spacey sound of fellow Californian progressive death metal act The Faceless (a band which The Zenith Passage’s lead guitarist, Justin McKinney, now plays in) and hard-hitting, chunky, riffy grooves that are highly reminiscent of brutal techdeath bands like Deeds Of Flesh or Cryptopsy, their sound is a fluid hybrid of the grim spaciness of the former with the technically demanding, spiraling compositions of the latter.
After starting off with a short ambient interlude that serves to build the tension moving towards the first substantial track, Solipsist explodes with “Holographic Principle II: Convergence,” a snappy number just shy of four minutes that deftly showcases exactly what the band is about here: a firestorm of hectic technicality builds into a hammering groove over which vocalist Greg Hampton spits a thesaurus’ worth of vocabulary with the fury and speed of a machine gun – seriously, you won’t find a more adept vocalist this side of Archspire’s Oliver Rae Aleron – and, brick by brick, melody by melody, “Convergence” builds itself into a complex death metal goliath replete with keyboards, choral vocals, and backing strings.
After dying down and taking a brief break for listeners to catch their breath, like a wave slowly making its way to the beach, the track regains momentum until the crashing finality near the song’s end. The sounds present on the first track are, by and large, the album’s content approached in an abbreviated format: Solipsist’s basic building blocks are riffs – if they can even be called that at this point – and melodies of dizzying complexity, muted staccato grooves, and ambient sections that often depend on arpeggiated chords and slinking, warm bass lines to create a grim atmosphere. Occasionally, synthesizers or strings appear to add a sense of grandiosity to the whole affair, building off of the band’s frameworks to add a touch of elegance and classical sensibility, but after the brief primer that is “Convergence,” no listener will be surprised by the elements that appear across the rest of the album.
Such consistency is certainly a double-edged sword; those who enjoy what they hear are going to find an album that is lovable at all points, but at times Solipsist becomes too comfortable and familiar in its line of work and various parts of tracks begin to bleed into one another. The Zenith Passage know exactly what they want to do here, and they do it quite well, but no band with such a dialed-in sound can sidestep the occasional monotony that is part and parcel with uniformity.
Those who have spent the past three years champing at the bit waiting for this album (including yours truly) are going to find exactly what was expected: smart, well-executed, forward-thinking technical death metal that bends and twists sounds from across the extreme metal spectrum into a combination that is as refreshing and unique as it is immediately familiar. Solipsist is an extremely accurate title for this album, in a sense; if The Zenith Passage are one thing, they are sure of themselves, and their obvious comfort in their sound pays off with one of the most entertaining, consistent, and intelligent releases of the year so far.