For this review of Thantifaxath‘s Void Masquerading as Matter both Vincent and Zyklonius share their thoughts and strangely, no arm wrestling or game of knuckles were involved to decide who would go first. If this happens in the future we’ll bring you the footage. Anyway, make sure you stick around and read both takes.
At long last, Canada’s Thantifaxath have returned with new music. 2014’s Sacred White Noise is a cherished release of mine and one that still gets regular listens, so to finally be able to sample new material after three years is a treat, and Void Masquerading as Matter finds the band picking things up like no time passed at all, going straight for the throat with some of their best material to date.
Thantifaxath succeed where so many other black metal acts fail by managing to make music that truly feels frightening and unsettling; the use of chromatic ascent and descent along with their penchant for dark ambiance borrows heavily from horror movie soundtracks, and when added to the formula of black metal manages to accentuate the darker and more nightmarish parts of the genre. From the anxiety-inducing guitar work of opener “Ocean of Screaming Spheres” (song title of the year) to the nauseating string bends coupled with rapidly ascending tempos of “Cursed Numbers”, Void Masquerading as Matter sees the band improving upon their already singular sound to haunting effect.
My only complaint with this release, and the reason (I think) that it was classified as an EP and not a full-length album, is that the last track is… well it sure is something. The closing titular track is seven and a half minutes of uninterrupted and unaccompanied keyboards, an especially abrupt change of pace in an album already full of odd shifts and turns. Taken on its own, it isn’t uninteresting, and perhaps the synthesized human voice and stark ambiance of the track is designed to allow the listener to ruminate on its title, and the theme of the album as a whole, but musically it sticks out like a sore thumb. It is certainly a head-scratching way to end things considering the momentum the band built up with the tracks prior to it.
Ultimately, however, everything about Thantifaxath’s music is confusing and disorienting by design, so perhaps this is just the band toying with us a bit. Taken as a whole, the good parts of this EP vastly outweigh any confusion one might feel upon the album’s close, and love it or hate it, you have to admit that there is no one writing black metal that sounds like this. I certainly still enjoyed it, perhaps even because of the unorthodox experience.
Author’s Note: It was brought to my attention following the initial publication of this review that what I mistook for keyboards and “synthesized human voice” is actually a flesh-and-blood human being, and that “Void Masquerading as Matter” is a vocal performance. Given this new information, I am actually inclined to look back on the song more favorably. It still stands in stark contrast to the rest of the material, but now that I am aware that the crystalline vocals contained here were performed and not merely sampled, it is apparent the talent, precision, and command of the voice the artist put into this piece. All credit where credit is due.
Like brother Vincent, I adore Sacred White Noise. In fact, I regard it as one of the greatest debuts — nay, releases — in the history of modern black metal. I was ensorcelled by its slithering string arrangements that kept on ascending and descending the proverbial mountains of madness, and the way unnerving yet infectious melodies punctured the seeming cacophony with resounding clarity. For a debut full-length, Sacred White Noise was a spectacularly intricate tour de force with a unique sonic fingerprint.
Void Masquerading as Matter — one of my most anticipated releases this year — remains instantly recognizable as something that could only emanate from Thantifaxath’s demented hive mind; serpentine riff progressions locked into cycles of despair and misery, and frenzied roller coaster rides of climbing and plunging scale runs are still there to deliver the cascading chaos.
Although the riffs remain discordant and wildly oscillating, still imbued with a twisted sense of melody replete with barbed hooks, the new EP is a tad less immediate than its predecessor, opting instead for a more adventurous, long-form approach, with tracks hovering above the nine-minute mark. By doing this, it resembles in terms of style and scope the debut’s epic 11-minute closer “Lost in Static between Worlds”, building and expanding on its artistic foundation.
Elements of contemporary classical music assume an increasingly prominent role with visionary triumph, including through interlude-like breakdowns in the maelstrom of misery. Throughout the EP, washes of noise vaporize hope, providing the aching backdrop for a lonely, distressed piano (as on “Ocean of Screaming Spheres”) or the forlorn plucking of strings on “Self Devouring Womb”, arriving in the aftermath of earlier despairing intensity provided by the relentless attack of guitars and the pained thrills of violins. “Cursed Numbers” becomes the sonic equivalent of a mental collapse, tumbling down a spiraling staircase to the tune of tormented screams and appropriately atonal fretboard runs. A beautiful string section provides a moment of solace and lucidity before an utterly disorienting guitar emerges and the violins return to an earlier cascading motif before transforming into spectral screeches that join the guitar’s teeth-grinding assault. In fact, there are uncanny moments where it is difficult for someone as uncultured as to classical music as yours truly to even identify the instruments, which only adds to the alien mystique of Thantifaxath’s compositions.
While my esteemed colleague in wordsmithery disclosed his slight uncertainty about the closing track, I was enraptured by its vivid eponymous evocations and the transfixing way it approaches abstraction with its wraithlike sorrow and anguished wailing, building towards a crescendo and coda that recalls the grandeur of György Ligeti’s “Requiem” and Thantifaxath’s ever-evolving mastery of dark musical arts towards new planes of turmoil.
Void Masquerading as Matter brims with compositional brilliance and artistic maturity. It is testament to Thantifaxath’s excellence in weaponizing despair and misery. By refining its existing strengths and adding new elements to its eccentric and idiosyncratic sonic palette, the band solidifies its position in the vanguard of contemporary black metal and continues its unstoppable march towards apotheosis.