Contrarian is a four man wrecking crew, a technical quartet who weave epic songs in the vein of late-era Death albums (with the help of drumming phenomenon George Kollias, known for his role in the infamous Nile) and Cynic. The epic masterpiece The Sound of Perseverance comes to mind when I sit down and start to dig into this latest Contrarian effort, aptly titled To Perceive is to Suffer. Even the title of the album has a Schuldiner-esque tone to it. Fans of old school and new school death metal alike should find something to enjoy among these nine tracks of slithering rhythms, machine gun drumming and throaty vocals. I will note that the nature of the raspy vocal delivery may throw some fans of more brutal, guttural and lower toned growls off at first, however, it should be something any fan of great musicianship can easily overcome and adapt to.
Being a huge fan of Death this album is a welcome change of pace from the vicious audio bludgeoning that most current death metal bands seem to gravitate towards. Contrarian is a different animal altogether, relying on catchy riffs and memorable songwriting to keep listeners invested in the album. The performance of these two gents is nothing short of flawless and full of passion. There is a real sense of emotive thought and feeling on all of these tracks that is often times missing in modern metal tunes. It just seems to be conveyed a bit easier on To Perceive is to Suffer since the band utilize a wide range of dynamics including pristinely played clean passages and at times clean vocals too.
Starting off with the aggressive and challenging title track, “To Perceive is to Suffer”, the album doesn’t waste much time getting to its core sounds. The drums are unrelenting, the bass playing fluid and expressive and the guitar work is dizzying and full of rich, heartfelt, soulful playing. Much of the lead work (which comes in waves and short bursts) is full of melodic sweeps and fret runs as well as blues leads that you don’t typically find in typical death metal playing. Most of these tracks feature regular time signatures and steer clear of the weird mathiness that colours much of the modern wave of technical death metal, something I am sure will please many longtime fans of the style.
The fourth track, “Dreams at Slumber” is a nice tidy instrumental track that seems to encapsulate all of the clean and arpeggiated moments of the album. It is soothing and passive, the complete antithesis to the rest of the recording and yet it fits perfectly because of the stellar composition across the entire album. Moments reminiscent of “Dreams at Slumber” show up again and again, such as on the track “Purpose Seeker”, helping round everything together and tie the whole thing up into one cohesive package. Although not really a thematic album or a concept record I feel there are elements that help make for a unified whole.
The progressive elements are obvious on this album and Contrarian make no bones about it as heard on the beautiful and clean track “At Fate’s Hand”, a personal favourite of mine and what I consider to be a standout moment on the album. Their brand of death metal includes progressive moments, melodicism and clear nods to the past of death metal and its thrash roots. “To Perceive is to Suffer” is both a welcome change of pace and addition to the headbanging, mosh-pit friendly mayhem produced by the current crop of relevent technical modern acts. Offering a set of songs written in a very traditional sense, it’s difficult not to think of Floridian groups of the mid-90s when spinning this platter.
The outro solo for the second song, “Reunion at Gramos,” is brilliant and full of emotion, seemingly rounding out the tale of the song. Contrarian may not deliver the absolute best riffs or solos, however, none of them are ever played without total conviction and passion as is clearly demonstrated just by listening to the crisp nature of the performances. The technical prowess of these musicians is never flaunted and only utilized as needed, opting for a leaner approach as opposed to a flashy collection of sweep runs and bludgeoning. The song structures are relatively simple and yet contain enough surprises and intricate solos that they are able to entertain and hold attention for their entire duration. This allows for the album to always stay fresh, never giving it the chance to get stale.
If you’re a fan of well written songs and technical proficiency just shy of over the top fretboard olympics then this is the metal record you have been waiting 20 years for. It has much of the 90s Florida/tech-death scene in its DNA and makes no bones about displaying this in its almost mechanical delivery and complex-yet-digestible song structures. If you are missing some Death and Cynic styled music in your life this will fit the bill, no doubt, however it offers little in the way of forward progression for the death metal scene. Contrarian have conceived a potent album chock full of lush and often intricate playing wrapped in a cocoon of nostalgia. At times this album even caters to the needs of progressive metal fans too! This album is a rarity in today’s modern metal scene and one that I hope supporters of death metal are willing to give a chance. It may just open them up to a whole era/scene of metal from long ago.