Our friends in Contrarian saw a positively stellar year in 2019. The ides of March brought forth their third full length album; a most impressive beast, Their Worm Never Dies further showcased the quality of the composition and instrumental skill Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason are capable of. Accompanied by Pathology and Narcotic Wasteland, Contrarian hopped on their first tour in mid-August. Aside from promoting their newest masterpiece, the Pathological Addiction tour phased in a new era for Contrarian. Whereas they previously had the mythical George Kollias in the band, it was undoubtedly difficult to tour with someone in a band as prolific as Nile. Having a bassist and vocalist would be pretty dope too. Kollias left a void that could only be filled by men of similar caliber. As time would indeed tell, the right people fell into place. I met drummer Bryce Butler briefly for the first time when he was in town to practice with Mason and Tasikas. Little did I know that this very enthusuastic, very giggly, whimsical man would not only emulate Kollias, but also demonstrate the potential he has to surpass Kollias’ skill. Vocalist Cody McConnell not only brings his lowest of growls, but also an aura of familiarity. The tour marked the beginning of McConnell’s second stint in Contrarian, having previously filled vocal duties several years ago on the band’s first LP, Polemic. Bassist Bill Bodily rounds out Contrarian’s new and improved lineup. Bodily has amassed quite a resume, having played in bands whose style and popularity vary greatly in both regards; from bands as popular as the power/thrash Flotsam and Jetsam to the new, progressive and underground with Inhumatus.
Closing out the year with a successful tour, another audio masterpiece, and a lineup for the ages, Contrarian did the unthinkable. They announced a new album, to be released in 2020. If you do a little math, that’s four albums in (exactly) five years. In a day and age when the productivity and shelf life of a band might be “ai’ight” at best, Contrarian demonstrate well that it is in fact possible to be very active in our metal community and still produce high quality music, and consistently.
Only Time Will Tell is another chapter in the chronicle about the unnamed “Cloaked Contrarian”. This time, he finds himself far into the future and in pursuit of a brilliant shade of red. I had asked Tasikas if he could go into further detail regarding the story of the cloaked figure. Instead he eluded to a kind of “I am Legion” identity and the myriad of realities and possibilities that lie therein. Conveyed in a fantastical style, the motif is reflected in one’s own interpretation of the discography’s material. He said, “Escapism is what makes heavy metal special, it is the catharsis that makes the bond between metalheads all over the world so strong.”
Early on, with Polemic and To Perceive is to Suffer, Contrarian solidified their sound: one that pays homage to the originators of death metal while incorporating their own modern progressiveness. Their Worm and Only Time both serve to hone Contrarian’s peculiarities. However, Only Time has offered the challenge, opportunity and excitement of what three new musicians can bring to the table. Most of the tracks are our established Contrarian, if you will. Complex riffs, blast beats, deep gutturals, those super smooth basslines, and Mason’s self proclaimed “shitty” solos.
“Beat the Clock”, (“Jim’s silly synth song”) is the first of two tracks that sound dissimilar from the surrounding riffage; it’s that instrumental respite from Contrarian’s established pervasiveness. It slows down the pace of the album early on, but preceeds the speeding up of the following songs. For the first time, in this song, the guys incorporate something new into their mix: the lapsteel. Whereas their music doesn’t always call for eccentric, non-traditional instruments, the lapsteel serves its purpose in provoking an odd, nervous chill throughout the duration of the song.
The title track is the other respite; a tune that instigates the kind of atmosphere one might find at night in the middle of November, dark but the good kind of chill. Once a metalhead who wanted nothing but crushing, technical brutalty, I have come to love a band’s ability to produce an array of sounds and feelings within their subgenre, even (and especially) those that venture out past the realm of heavy and violent. As of late, I’ve stumbled onto a much deeper respect for Jazz and Classical, and have subsequently acquired more of an affinity for those genres in the metal I listen to. I’ve come to appreciate the brief interludes of slower, simpler, more ambient tracks that serve to break up the potential monotony that death metal can produce.
The worst things I have to say about Only Time include “needs more bass solos”, “needs more Jim singing”, and “why are Contrarian still producing albums that are only 30 minutes long?” But those things have already become redundant in my reviews and therefore obsolete. My only true beef with this album is that I’ve listened to them both so often that I can hear similarities with Their Worm that make me concerned about the future of Contrarian’s musical stagnation. A wise man once told me that true creativity lasts only ten years, and if that were to be true, our friends are halfway through that tenure. With no sign of slowing down, their future material has the chance to fade away into the rest of the discography. But I’d like to be optimistic that their creative well has not yet run dry, and that those ol’ coots have a few strange tricks up their sleeves.
Contrarian has always consisted of supremely stellar musicians with hoards of fresh ideas. I accused Mason of him and the rest of the band beings Tasikas’ lackeys, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. All members have full creative input; Tasikas concocts the lyrical concepts and riffs the skeletons of each songs and each other respective member adds their own flavours into the mix. Creative minds often butts heads, but Contrarian have found themselves in seemingly perfect symbiosis. And I can only imagine how much that amount of free flowing positivity could impact their individual and collective creativity and also their interpersonal relationships. I hope everyone can acknowledge and appreciate the beauty within that, Contrarian are proving themselves to be quite an upstanding role model.
Only Time Will Tell drops November 20, 2020 via Willowtip records. As per usual, you can preorder their record and all affiliated merch goodies from their Bandcamp, BigCartel and on Willowtip Records.
With all of it’s might, 2020 continues to ride roughshod over, leaving chaos and uncertainty in its wake. However, one thing is for certain- Our friends in Contrarian are correct; truly, Only Time Will Tell.