Imagine that you mated Gorguts and Dodecahedron and left their bastard progeny on the doorstep of The Ocean. By the time Light Through Dead Glass flies out the F1’s mouth, nature and nurture have taken their course in shaping their grubby offspring. Passed down from their father are incoherent shrieks and furious black metal riffs, complementing the intricate bass lines and scintillating guitar tone contributed by their mother. Both parents passed on the recessive atonality and strangeness alleles, and somewhere along the line a mutation occurred giving rise to the novel trumpet player feature. Despite Epistasis‘ breeding, their adopted parents have taught them some manners, instilling upon the young band a sense of melody and introspection. With such a colorful bouquet of attributes, Epistasis is an impossible specimen to miss in a screen, even for the amateur metal geneticist [NERD! — Steel “Cyber Bully” Druhm].
The New York- based quartet has picked a perfect name and a perfect gimmick to ensnare my affections on paper: wildly experimental, heavy music with a healthy addition of instrumentation and a moniker adopted from the argot of a Drosophila devotee. The degree to which they seem to be calling to me is nearly as eerie as their music itself, a dense whorl of mutagenic sound systematically pierced by warm brass tones and processed shrieks. Even this isn’t enough to ensure results; even the most cleverly designed experiments fail, whether due to mistakes on the part of the investigators or unforeseen variables, and this whole endeavor has the potential to go violently awry.
While the modifier “violent” certainly applies, the first few songs defray any notion of error. “Time’s Vomiting Mouth” produces a muddled ringing sound which gives way to a sludgy, lurching introduction for the song’s decidedly blackened body. Vocalist/trumpeter Amy Mills ceases shrieking midway through to introduce the brass via whirring drones cloaked in processed reverb before resuming her drowned screams. “Finisterre,” positioned immediately downstream of the jarring opener, is a bit proggier, featuring clever bass lines and much more melodic input from the trumpet. “Witch” represents a total departure from this progression; it’s best understood as a surprisingly effective attempt to splice a Schoenberg composition into a Portal song. Utterly bizarre.
“Crown of Yellow Stars” closes the EP as dramatically as it opened, featuring a gnashing, noisy guitar solo, the album’s finest death metal riffs and pummeling percussion. At the end, it’s sad to hear the contorted landscape fade. In under half an hour, Light Through Dead Glass has presented enough ingenuity, extremity, and gleeful strangeness to warrant an appreciative nod from any Sigh album, delivered with care through the ether. Another song or two wouldn’t be a burden.
While not lacking in creativity, there is a distinct problem with Light Through Dead Glass: its production. While it’s obvious that some level of murkiness is intentional, tuning the guitar tone to Portal at all times ruins clarity when the album becomes less punishing. This fuzziness manifests itself in the midsection of “Finisterre,” where the bass intricately weaves its way through chords that, were it not for their distortion, could bridge a Lynrd Skynrd song. Here the guitar has somewhat eponymously hidden this brilliant little ditty, which only reveals itself after successive listens. The trumpet is used sparingly, but effectively, compensating for its absence by way of a heavy dose of processing; at times, this lends an appropriately bizarre edge to the music, but all too often the tone is too overdriven and feels flat, which mars the trumpet-dominated “Grey Ceiling”- there are some small but noticeable clips in the song, and listening to it, or the rest of the album on high volume is at best tiring and at worst painful.
With better production this EP could easily be addicting. Epistasis‘ sound is genuinely unlike anything I’ve heard before, and I’d love to see them metamorphose into a fully fledged experimental metal machine. Musicians take note; this is how you make an impression. Be new, interesting, and willing to take risks. Even when some of those risks don’t pay off, you shouldn’t be faulted for trying them, and the more bands like Epistasis decide to challenge norms, the more robust and interesting the metal scene will be.