In case you’ve been living under a rock, or are simply not in tune to the currents of death metal (a legitimate thing to not be in tune with), Contrarian are one of the bands leading the thrust of current OSDM revival. But instead of going super murky or corrosive for their sound, Contrarian channel bands like Death, Cynic and even Atheist at times, leaning into more technical, expressive styles of death metal. Their latest single which we’re premiering today, “Scarlet Babylon”, is no different. Coming off of their upcoming release, Only Time Will Tell, the track is full of blistering licks, great hooks, guttural vocals, and a technical tendency that fleshes things out without sacrificing an iota of the track’s momentum. Head on down below to check it out for yourself!
As with previous releases by the band, my favorite thing is how well the bass and the guitars collaborate on the intricate riffs which dominate the track’s center. It gives everything a richness and fullness that is hard to resist. Add in the agile drums and the truly bottomless vocals and you’ve got yourself a winner, Contrarian’s sound sounding as rounded and fully fleshed out as we’ve come to expect from the band. The thematics continue the band’s penchant for over-the-top, somewhat cheesy science fiction, unabashedly exploring some of the more grandiose tropes of the genre.
Which leads me to my only, but important, point of criticism: when I wrote my essay on synthwave and cyberpunk, I alluded to the problematic nature of the representation of women in science fiction in general. As science fiction continues to be a fertile ground for metal’s inspiration, these problems continue to “bleed over”. Thus, by leaning on the quite well established tropes of science fiction, metal bands, without intent even, might end up drawing on those problematic representations. This doesn’t mean their music is not good, of course; excellent music can still miss the mark when it comes to issues of representation and thematic meaning.
Contrarian‘s “Scarlet Babylon” is a great example of this. As we’ve said above, the track is a smoking hot heap of great riffs, powerful vocals, and a dynamism that many death metal bands would kill to have. But it also leans way too heavily into the “succubus” trope for me to be comfortable with. While the woman depicted in the video is certainly a powerful figure (and I like that she wears the band’s logo, marking her as a central character), the lyrics and her, scant shall we call it, depiction also leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. It just hits and channels so many negative tropes about women, power, politics, and agency for me to not raise the point, even if those tropes are “inherited” from a different genre.
Luckily, the rest of the album does much to dispel this after-taste. It’s an expansive science fiction album in its own right, with many more twists and turns into the science fiction thematic realm. It’s also another truly excellent excursion from these masters of technical death metal, hitting all of the sweet spots we’ve come to expect from Contrarian. It releases on November 20th via the incredibly Willowtip Records, and you can pre-order it here and here.