The last few years, I have watched most of my time dissolve, akin to cotton candy in water. It has been three years since I last bothered with this outlet for creativity, and since then I have been consumed by a different kind of metal, a little enlightenment, and the work I should’ve been doing over a decade ago. But like the cycles of cicadas, it is my time to emerge from my technological hibernation once again. Such seems to be the nature of the vernal equinox. And once again, with the onset of spring and the passage of the ides of March, the labors of my progressive death heroes, Contrarian, are ready to bear fruit.
We last left our cloaked contrarian roaming an awfully dystopian-looking future in pursuit of a hot redhead and the lessons only a woman of that caliber could bestow. However, in this era, it appears as if our contrarian has fallen ill; ill with malady of the soul. And whereas one would seek a physician for illnesses that plague the flesh, our contrarian has sought out the consul of Christ-like figures and other ancient, divinely graced individuals. Sage of Shekinah poses many questions pertaining to our contrarian’s latest era of enlightenment; albeit rather simple but very profound.
We have witnessed an incredible host of musicians involved with this project, and Sage continues the influx of reputable and familiar faces. It is no secret that Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason are the spinal cord and nervous system of Contrarian. Tasikas writes everything from riffs to lyrics, drawing inspiration from concepts that have taken decades, if not entire lifetimes, to cure. This is clearly reflected by the continuing progression, complexity and depth of the material he puts forth. Upon my first spin of Sage, I was surprised and very much delighted to finally hear a little Mediterranean influence from Tasikas; influence I know to be very pinnacle to him, and that I would very much like to hear trickle in a little more in the future.
Many moons ago, I divulged that Mason ad libs all of his solos on the spot. This not only allows him to not dwell or nit-pick his own performances, but forces him to actively and intimately feel for the vibe of Tasikas’s riffage. Whereas this doesn’t work for everyone, I firmly believe this is one of the key secrets to why Contrarian records seem to have so much soul and provoke such deep emotion. All of those majestic solos are the manifestations of pure feels.
I am grateful to have been privy to more intimate details of Tasikas’ and Mason’s relationship throughout the tenure of Contrarian. Two very different individuals, bringing very different things to the table. Yet the marriage of their styles, preferences and personalities is completely unabridged and homogenized in Contrarian. Sage provides further evidence of the growth of both the dichotomy and entanglement of Tasikas’ and Mason’s relationship not just as musicians working together, but as lasting companions.
I am always excited for Ed Paulsen’s return. His basslines are never brash or overpowering, and instead delicately compliment Tasikas’s riffs. I find Paulsen to be ghastly underrated and unacknowledged, and my usual solitary beef with Contrarian records is that he is not allowed many opportunities to shine at the forefront of much of the material. I had originally singled out “Apollonius of Tyana”, so I could give the guys props on finally letting Paulsen stand out. However, I was duped! To my surprise, the soloing was actually done by another underrated and unacknowledged bassist, Jack Eaton, most notable for those low tones in The Last King.
If you are unaware who Alex Cohen is, I can deduce that you are living under a rock far larger than my own. With the likes of Pyrexia, Pyrrhon, Malignancy and Imperial Triumphant on his resume, I think it’s evident that he no doubt has the mastery and expertise to keep up with the demands of a project that continues to get more convoluted in its progressiveness. I have tried to single out a track where his skill shines the brightest, but Cohen is unbelievably consistent throughout the entire recording.
I could not find much information on this album’s vocalist, Jakob Sin. I met him last summer when he took up vocal duties for the Suffocation tour Contrarian had the opportunity to hop on. He was certainly not what I was expecting. I will admit, his appearance is reminiscent of a few prominent nu-metal bands from the late 90’s, but as always, it is unwise to judge books by their covers. I find Sin’s vocals to be a little deep into the mix on Sage, but I am adamant that his style and tone are exactly what Tasikas was looking for when he began this project. I think their previous vocalists’ were either a little too guttural or monotone, and that Sin’s range properly rounds out this homage to Contrarian’s progressive death predecessors. Though little is known about Sin, perhaps this stint at the helm will open a couple more doors to his future music career, not just in the progressive death realm, but across the metal spectrum.
And though it seems unfortunate that Contrarian has had a revolving door of musicians, I think it’s important to recognize the flow of opportunity and influence all these men have brought to the project. George Kollias of Nile fame brought Contrarian quite a bit more into the light with his involvement in Polemic and To Perceive is to Suffer, and even more so when he stepped up to perform vocals on Their Worm Never Dies. Only Time Will Tell brought back Cody McConnell (Dissonant Seepage, ex-Goemagot) from Polemic, and offered him a chance to display the work he’s done on improving his vocal range. Whereas Paulsen stepped back from this release, Tasikas and Mason brought Bill Bodily onboard before he committed to Flotsam and Jetsam full time. Some of his best work can be found on OTWT, in addition to my regional favourites, Inhumatus. OTWT also introduced the prog death community to Bryce Butler, most notable for his work in Shadow of Intent, Valiant Crusade, and positively endless smiles and laughter. I believe this Contrarian album allowed him to let loose a little more, and allowed him to demonstrate that though he is young, Butler is very much on league with the likes Kollias, and very well has the capacity to surpass him (if he hasn’t already). Contrarian ran into trouble, briefly, while planning their first tour with death metal juggernauts Suffocation and Atheist in 2022. But with aid from Cohen, Sin and Eaton, the shows went on and we finally got to witness a couple of our hometown rockstars live out their dream, if only for a little while. Contrarian has offered opportunities for many musicians to come and test their prowess, and an opportunity for some to partake in once in a lifetime adventures. Opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist without the determination and hard work of the project’s mastermind. And therefor I believe it is time to also recognize Tasikas for not only his musical brilliance, but also his contributions to our community as a true patron of the art of progressive death metal.
I have been told many times for many years that this would be the conclusion of Contrarian’s recording career. That by album five, Tasikas would have all of this progressive death-y goodness out of his system, and that he and Mason could move on to each of their own endeavours. And though I find Sage to be satisfactory to end a project of this magnitude and prowess on, I do not yet believe we have seen the true magnum opus of such ingenious individuals. And I sincerely hope we have not yet reached the omega of the Contrarian collective.
Είσαι η έμπνευσή μου, Δημήτριε.
Sage of Shekinah is brought to you by Willowtip and will drop March 17 (St Patrick’s day)! Preorders are live! And while you’re there, feel free to explore the rest of Contrarian’s exceptional discography, and perhaps treat yourself to some new swag for the onset of the gorgeous spring that awaits! I expect sensational things on the horizon for our friends in Contrarian, so stay tuned!