Contrarian – Only Time Will Tell Review

My first exposure to American progressive death outfit Contrarian was on their third LP, 2019’s Their Worm Never Dies. Despite impressing with their technical skills and old school soul, the material never quite hit loftier heights, resulting in an enjoyable, talent-laden album of the solid variety. Only Time Will Tell is a relatively speedy turnaround and comes with some line-up changes in tow. High profile drummer/vocalist George Kollias (Nile) has departed, with Bryce Butler subbing in, while original vocalist Cody McConnell and bassist Bill Bodily join mainstay duo of Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason, sharing guitar duties. Changes aside, the basic ’90s inspired progressive death formula remains, heavily influenced by scene legends, most notably, evoking the formidable legacy of mid era-Death and Atheist.

However, while stylistic changes may be subtle in comparison with its immediate predecessor, Only Time Will Tell is a different sounding beast, musically and sonically. The production isn’t quite as organic and dynamic, but packs a sizable wallop and modern sheen. Returning vocalist McConnell’s muffled, deeper growls contrast significantly against Kollias’ mid-ranged, blackened attack on Their Worm Never Dies. These changes, coupled with a deeper focus on groove and songwriting dynamics, provides a fresh yet familiar perspective, albeit one with a similar musical philosophy. Overall the old school prog death worship is presented with a sharper, more brutal and modern edge. Otherwise the torrents of flashy guitar interplay, constantly shifting rhythmic complexities, and show stealing bass playing remain ingrained in the band’s sound.

“In a Blink of an Eye” makes a strong impression, as album openers should. The song quickly establishes a chunky presence, replete with scrubby growls, nimble basslines, and hefty death grooves. Adventurous, complex yet undeniably catchy, Contrarian hit the ground running. From here the band plunge and shred through a concise album, comprising eight cuts and a wise 34 minute run-time. Psychedelic jamming and foreboding atmospheres are instilled on instrumental “Beat the Clock,” an intermittently gripping number, perhaps a little oddly placed three tracks in. Alongside the throwaway later album title track interlude, it eats into an album of otherwise more traditional progressive death fare. Occasional psych-drenched proggy detours pop-up, well integrated with the enticing leads and burlier assault on “Case Closed,” while chanting cleans and always expressive basslines lend further melodic weight and dynamics to “Scarlet Babylon.”

Taking nothing away from the busy, technical, and often melodic guitar work, the extremely gifted rhythm section often overshadow their axe slinging bandmates. Butler’s drumming is loaded with nuance and creativity, while Bodily’s bass playing is top notch, often demanding attention, as well as filling in the spaces and cushioning the overall sound. Following such a prompt turnaround and line-up changes to boot, it’s admirable how well Contrarian have bounced back and rolled with the punches to deliver another solid progressive death album. However, the album feels more like a series of cool moments, and select handful of killer tracks, rather than a fully immersive progressive death experience. Enjoyment is certainly present in the moment, but I’ve found little to distinctly recall after each spin, the writing not as memorable or cohesive as I would like, stifling wholehearted enthusiasm.

Contrarian is a band that is easy to like, and easy on the ears. Yet after spending significant time with their past couple of albums, there remains something holding me back from bestowing a higher grade on their obviously talented works. Only Time Will Tell has a lot going for it, and honestly, I prefer it over its predecessor, if only marginally. I only hope Contrarian can merge their technical proficiency and dazzling skills with genuinely cohesive and catchy songwriting next time round to unleash an album of greater power and substance, breaking free from the imposing shadows of their key influences. Reservations aside, Only Time Will Tell remains a solid album, and though individual mileage may vary, it’s well worth checking out for fans of the style.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Willowtip Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 20th, 2020

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