Headshrinker – Callous Indifference Review

Every now and then an unheralded act comes out of left field to whack you in the melon with a baseball bat forged of creativity and intensity. Colorado-based progressive death metal act Headshrinker just did that to me with their Callous Indifference debut. Combining rancid old school death with doom, suicidal-depressive black metal, and prog elements, this talented crew featuring members of Polyptych along with Havok’s Pete Webber on drums, created a deep dive into the complex and painful issue of mental illness and the soul-killing isolation and anguish it inflicts on those suffering from it. Feel good music this is not as the listener is plunged into a musical simulation of mental affliction with all its disorientation and unease. This is not accomplished through sheer brutality so much as thoughtful, insightful writing and arranging, producing songs that sink under the skin and stay with you even as they create a sense of palpable discomfort akin to what the likes of Akercocke / Voices have achieved prior. It’s an unpredictable, harrowing journey and you’re never sure what’s waiting around the next corner.

As opener “The Burn of Indifference” roars to angry life with nasty, buzzing riffs, you’d be forgiven for thinking you stumbled into a standard-issue Sweadeath offering. Before the first minute is over, however, that impression will be beaten out of your skull via lighting quick digressions into both black metal and doom-death territory. Riffs shift and morph abruptly and the entire construct heaves to and fro unsteadily, but it all hangs together and keeps you on a razor’s edge. The forlorn leads that drift in and out are the icing on the cake and Young Werther’s death vocals are brutal and uncompromising. “Cadaver’s Mind” seems more direct on first exposure, but its mid-tempo doom plod is accented by many little details and nuances, merging aspects of Voices’ darkness with Novembers Doom-esque theatrics to arrive at a whole new place. When it erupts into fury at the mid-point it feels extra impactful and the Paul Kuhr-like semi-clean vocals hit especially hard.

Headshrinker paint with many colors within a single song, as demonstrated by “Immolated Witches.” It starts as a melancholy piece of doom-death before exploding into berserk blasting death metal that recalls the last Anaal Nathrakh opus. Werther’s vocals become almost comically inhuman here and it’s the sound of a mind going off the rails. The constant see-sawing between styles make the song extra compelling and these shifts feel natural and never forced. “Wretched Soul” is the album high point to my ears – an uncompromising dose of unhinged death metal crafted to make you uncomfortable. Jagged riffs fly every which way and blasts give way to brain-stomping Bolt Thrower chugs and back again. A beautifully emotive yet simplistic solo arrives out of the chaos only to fade into eerie carnival keyboards. It’s a twisted, brutal ride. I’d be remiss without mentioning album closer “No Lineage Shall Follow” which blends gloomy melodeath with suicidal-depressive black metal and oppressive industrial churns a la early Godflesh. It almost approaches the levels of Imperial Triumphant insanity but it’s easier to absorb and internalize. None of the songs are weak and all bring their own unique blend of darkness, despair, and intensity. This is an album best experienced as a whole, and it’s only then that the full weight of the unpleasant concept crashes down on you. You will feel things, and none of them are good. At 38 minutes, the length is perfect for what the music is trying to convey and anything more would dilute the impact.

I cannot say enough about the band’s performance here. This is a musical tour de force across the boards. Werther and Scott Skopec blow the doors off with their riff-work which runs across numerous genres but never feels derivative. There are many moments that stand out and deliver real, honest impact thanks to their calculated riffage. The restrained soloing adds a welcome dimension of beauty and hope and it’s used strategically and judiciously. Werther’s vocals are flat-out insane. His death metal roar is brutal, and he trails off into depressive, utterly lost wailing and shrieks at times in a way that tears at the heartstrings. Pete Webber’s drumming and Frank Leto’s bass work are top-notch, grounding the deranged compositions on a rock-solid foundation. This is a truly lethal crew.

A wide variety of moods and influences collide as Callous Indifference unfolds and the band keeps everything flowing in the right direction without glaring missteps. It requires several spins to synthesize and absorb all that Headshrinker do here, but the time spent pays enormous dividends. I came into Callous Indifference expecting nothing and got way more than I bargained for, thus they get my first 4.0 of 2021 and the Steel ov Approval. This ain’t pretty, but you should get your head around it, stat.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Release
Websites: headshrinker.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/headshrinker
Releases Worldwide: August 27th, 2021

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