The past is an odd thing; people expect you to come to terms with it and reference it in your art (in the form of genre norms and adherence to “the greats”) but not too blatantly, lest you be deemed a “rip off”. Once you’ve “touched” the past, it’s also extremely hard to shake it off, as your work will constantly be judged in light of it. Some bands solve these conflicts and nuances by simply diving head first into homage, worship, and clear references, preferring to cut through all the questions by explicitly communicating with their influences.
Contrarian is a good example. Their 2015 and 2017 releases, Polemic and To Perceive is To Suffer, respectively, were drenched to their bones in the influences of Death and Cynic. There was no question of their relationship with the past, as they wore their influences on their sleeve and went full force into the kind of OSDM that doesn’t apologize and doesn’t take prisoners. Having veterans of the scene like George Kollias (Nile) at the helm, alongside the albums been genuinely great, helped them “sell” their formula. Now, they stand before Their Worm Never Dies, their third release, and they must ask themselves: where do we go from here? Are we content to continue down the same path, to stick to our guns and make the same kind of music or do we branch out and complicate our relationship with the past?
Interestingly enough, the answer is “both”. Their Worm Never Dies definitely sees the band continue with their unashamed tribute to the early days of death metal but, at the same time, also contains a diversified stock of riffs and ideas. In that regard, the best comparison for it might be the divisive The Sound of Perseverance, as it feels less oppressive and “busy” than their previous releases, featuring more melodic and ambient passages. Make no mistake though, Their Worm Never Dies still delivers plenty of fury and that’s perhaps the best place to start analyzing the album because even here there are marked differences than the previous release.
These differences mostly take shape in a more “spacious” approach to riffs and transitions. Instead of constantly hammering at technical riffs that leave the listener bewildered, the guitar lines on the track tend to be “bigger” and more emotive. The opening notes of “My Curse” are a great example; the third track opens with a brightly shimmering series of open chords before quickly exploding into a frighteningly powerful shriek of guitars from Jim Tasikas and a stomach wrenching growl from Kollias (delivering one of the best lines on the album, “Let those who love the earth, listen!”). The entire track is way more agile than previous works, jumping with blinding agility, rather than speed, from idea to idea. The result is still brimming with technicality but less oppressive, letting different passages breathe and express themselves fully.
A big part of that also has to be chalked down to the different style of production. Whereas previous albums from the bad had an approach to production that could almost be described as avant-garde in its density, Their Worm Never Dies benefits from a broader mix, which allows the bass and the drums to come through more clearly, separate beats sounding that much better instead of slightly blending together like on previous releases. This “cleaner” mix also helps highlight the more exploratory moments on the album, like the beautiful opening of the following track, “The Petition”. The sonorous combination of brightly toned guitars and evocative bass, which takes the lead on this track opening, sets up the stage perfectly for this high-octane track.
Other moments of experimentation include the opening segments of “Among the Misled”, where Kollias is unleashed for a few bars of a drum solo dovetailed by an odd riff before the track beings in earnest. This track also includes interesting usage of rhythm breaks, being perhaps the most technically impressive track on the album while also being on of the weirder, haunted by that odd riff from its beginning, prominent bass bridges, muffled drums, and other additions to the OSDM formula. As a result, it’s also one of the more interesting tracks on the album, really demanding that you listen closely to parse its odd tones and compositions.
For those yearning for the harsh light of sweeps, this album certainly has you covered (the latter passages of “Among the Misled” are filled with notes) but you won’t find as much indulgence in the OSDM formula as in previous albums. This is a great thing since it is replaced by more progressive tendencies and experimentation, especially with the roles which the bass plays and the composition of transitions, opening segments, and outros (we haven’t even spoken about the title track and its fantastic outro with its weird vocals). This branching out coupled with a dedication to the death metal roots of their sound allows Their Worm Never Dies to stand as Contrarian’s best release yet, a full unfurling of their potential to the heights of death metal a lot of us suspected they could always achieve. Put on your best cowl, imbibe whatever substance you need to imbibe to get out there in space, and let’s worship some white dragons, shall we?
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Their Worm Never Dies releases on the 15th of March via the dominating, unquestionable, almighty force that is Willowtip Records. Head on over to the Bandcamp page above to pre-order it!