“…be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies…” -Mark 9:48
It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve been so ecstatic about something that it was so near impossible to wipe a dumb looking grin off my face. Guitarist Brian Mason left me this album in my inbox about a month ago, and it had left said dumb grin on my face for weeks. Even now as I allow these notes to caress my eardrums, I can’t help but succumb to a state of ethereal bliss.
I have a serious emotional attachment to Contrarian’s second full length, To Perceive is to Suffer; one exponentially greater than I have with their first LP, Polemic. Front to back Perceive an absolutely stellar album, chock full of equal parts heaviness and ambiance, outstanding musicianship, and a few unanticipated surprises. And even over a year later, it still gives me that warm, fuzzy, tingly feeling I got when I first listened to it. That’s not to say Polemic isn’t a great album, it just doesn’t quite have the power and emotional impact that Perceive does (at least for me anyway).
When I was sent the dropbox link, Brian included, “It’s better than Perceive, and you know it”. Now, I’m not really a “love at first listen” kinda guy. I tend to find little discrepancies within otherwise incredible songs, and most of the time that one misplaced brushstroke will ruin the bigger picture. But this time… was different. Sure, I delved into this album completely biased, but I had incredibly high expectations. One does not simply drop a masterpiece like Perceive only to follow it up with something sub-par. As if the Contrarian dudes could write something as such.
With all that out of the way, I suppose that brings me to actually discussing Their Worm Never Dies, right? The concept album chronicles a hooded figure, cursed, who seeks out a glorious white dragon to help cure his affliction. But is the cursed removed? Is the creature’s benevolence perhaps mistaken? And what’s to be told of the Hooded Man’s destiny? Of course, I could give you my own interpretation, but I will allow you to make your own.
Now, I refuse to go on a tangent about George Kollias. Most of you who’ll read this aren’t death metal newbies, and thus know as well as I do how god-tier his skill level is. If you don’t, I can’t help you this time. But I cannot deny his vital role in this project; George volunteering to do vocals greatly helped propel Contrarian forward. And I’m willing to bet that his association got you to check them out in the first place, didn’t it?
Jim Tasikas, rhythm guitars, is the mastermind behind the premise of the album and the songs’ basic structure. Taking heavy influence from the frontrunners of progressive death like Cynic and Athiest, he smoothly blends the old school death metal sound with modern progression and complexity. If Schuldiner were still around, there’s no question the sound Contrarian currently concoct is the route Death would’ve taken.
One of my favorite little trivia facts, if you will, about Their Worm (and both previous Contrarian releases) is about how Brian writes his leads. Or rather, how he doesn’t. He shows up to the studio, and when they start recording, he starts noodling. And that’s what ends up on the final product. As if his musical prowess wasn’t impressive enough, I think it’s even more so knowing that he just plays what’s coming naturally in the moment. Out of three LPs, there’s only one track where Brian had a solid idea of what he’d like to play before he got to the studio. And we’ll get to that, but not yet.
My only criticism, if you can even really call it that, is that ideally, I’d have loved to hear more from bassist Ed Paulsen. Those that aren’t new to Contrarian already know he’s an ace musician, and his bass lines really put the finishing touches on Contrarian’s overall sound. That being said, I’m not saying his low tones are drowned out by Jim and Brian’s riffage or George’s vocals. The mix is such that he’s pretty audible most if not all the time. But, I would love to see him have more prominent parts, very much like in the intro to “Exorcism” and in “Among the Misled”.
But alas, this is the beauty of these guys’ musicianship. Even with all the intricacies, complexities, and the vast realms of influence, everything fits together better than the stones in the walls at those ancient megalithic sites.
Now I can’t give away the whole album, but what I can tell you is.. Though this is likely subject to change, my favorite song right now is the title track, “Their Worm Never Dies”. Inspired by an incredible instrumental by a pretty legendary guitarist, it’s a side step away from the heavy-yet-ambient and atmosphere the rest of the album generates. And it’s a brief respite from the saga of the Hooded Man and the Worm. It’s sultry, passionate, and I think it’s the most emotionally provoking off the album. And it’s placement within the whole is perfect; it precedes an exceptional close to an overall incredible album.
“Whomsoever Worships the Whiteworm” is a behemoth track, certainly not one for those of short attention span. In a recent interview, Jim said that he’d get feedback along the lines of “great songwriting, but… let loose!” Needless to say… They’ve certainly outdone themselves. I am a sucker for getting lost in longer tracks, and I can’t help but allow myself to be devoured by the mythical dragon. I believe this song is the pinnacle of Contrarian’s discography, and I think you’ll agree once you’ve heard it. And I am beyond ecstatic to hear how they top this with their next release.
Their Worm Never Dies drops March 15 via Willowtip Records. But for the time being, you can jam their first single off the new record, “Exorcism“. And of course, their previous releases, To Perceive is to Suffer and Polemic. Preorders for Their Worm are live! And you can find them on both Contrarian’s bandcamp and Willowtip’s online store.