It’s hard to imagine a band blowing up more than Kardashev right now. Between their musical grind, which includes the astounding The Baring of Shadows from last year, their signing to Metal Blade Records, keeping the YouTube and Twitch games on lock, and all of the behind-the-scenes work they have done to bring their brand of beautiful, heavy music into the future, the self-styled “deathgaze daddies” seem to be just over the precipice of being household names. Liminal Rites, their debut for the aforementioned new label, sees them realize all of this potential in a big, beautiful way.
Since 2012, Kardashev have, in their own words, “[attempted] to create the most beautiful, heavy music through themes of love, loss, and altruism in the metal spectrum.” While they have consistently been successful with this at least since The Almanac, The Baring of Shadows really showed what they can do in terms of the raw amount of emotion they can pack into the format of slightly proggy death metal. However, this time around the progressive elements are dialed up a notch, almost to the level of free-form jazz in terms of song structure, according to guitarist Nico Mirolla. “The story is the focus. There is an overtly important narrative taking place that is facilitated by the sonic textures and qualities intentionally designed for it.” That narrative, which tells the story of The Lost Man, a character looking back on his life at the end of it, touches on themes of the instability of memory, the nature of dementia, the duality of perception and reality, and how experience is colored by these varieties of factors. Telling this story is, expectedly, vocalist extraordinaire Mark Garrett, but joining him this time around is drummer Sean Lang, who compliments Garrett’s colossal vocal range with spoken-word narrations, helping to keep the story of the album (that Lang actually conceptualized) at the forefront of Liminal Rite.
The signature sound of Kardashev has always been built upon two great pillars: Garrett’s absolutely insane vocal abilities and Mirolla’s deft use of melody and atmosphere in the guitar lines. On Liminal Rite, these two pillars stand as tall as ever. Garrett’s vocals effortlessly drift between operatic, soaring cleans and intestine-churning growls, throat-searing shrieks and plaintive wails. There is seemingly nothing he cannot accomplish with his voice, and Liminal Rite only further pushes him to the forefront of modern metal vocalists. Mirolla’s guitars similarly cover all the musical territory from delicate melodies to soaring leads to nasty riffs and judicious use of space. While these aspects are at the forefront of the sound, unlike previous releases, they do not end up stealing the show. Lang and bassist Alex Rieth don’t simply keep up with Garrett and Mirolla; they complement their strengths and bring their own unique skills to the table in a way that allows the album to shine as a whole instead of just a few pieces on their own. Rieth in particular has a standout performance, not simply because the engineering allows the bass to be heard, but because he doesn’t merely copy the riff. His bass parts add much needed counterpoint to the main melody. More often than not, he’s not holding down the low end; he’s adding more melody on top of what is already there, but it’s not distracting from anything. Rather, it makes for a richer, much more interesting overall sound. Similarly, Lang’s drum work is subtle when it needs to be and flashy and technical when the song demands, never stepping on anyone’s toes but not merely content to sit back and take it easy.
Liminal Rites is the exact album I, and I’m sure many others, were hoping for from Kardashev once the news of them being called up to the majors broke. In truth, Metal Blade is the perfect home for them, and this album is a perfect encapsulation of why they deserve every success they have achieved thus far, while still managing to push their sound in new and exciting directions. I need to find a better way of ending these things than by constantly saying “I’m so excited for what comes next,” but…I am. Especially for Kardashev, the door is wide open for them to go in any direction they want, and I am so happy to be along for the ride.