Polemicist – Return of the Sophist Review

Two years ago, due to the vulture-like voracity of my colleagues here towards the eternally decomposing corpse that is our promo bin, I discovered Zarathustrian Impressions, the debut album from Pennsylvanian blackened death scholars Polemicist solely on the fact that it was the last album not snatched up by my ravenous cohorts.1 It would be my colleagues’ loss, because despite being a back-heavy album with a questionable production, I was still impressed by what they had to offer musically, and even commented that they could very likely cast all eyes on them within a couple of albums. All went quiet for these promising musicians until we received word directly from the band that they took my criticisms to heart, fixed what needed to be fixed while leaving what worked alone, and now the duo of guitarist/vocalist Josiah Domico and lead guitarist Lydia Giordano return with Return of the Sophist, switching gears from the works of Nietzsche to Chaerephon’s epic trek for wisdom to the Oracle at Delphi.

And the duo were not kidding. Within seconds of “The Way to Delphi (Chaerephon’s Journey),” there’s a newfound and pronounced heft to both the guitars and session bassist Jon Norberg’s bass. Also Domico’s voice, which was already strong on Zarathustrian Impressions, sounds grittier yet clearer, keeping to a growl that’s not only powerful, but easily tells a story that doesn’t leave me questioning at all what stories he’s telling. But the biggest thing that changed is that each individual song on here just flows, giving Return of the Sophist a common, unifying thread that goes beyond just the lyrics telling a story. Each song fits into the album’s overall theme flawlessly.

But the one thing that was thankfully left alone was the sheer amount of batshit crazy tremolo-picking on display by Domico and Giordano. Even then, thanks to the improved production by Sébastien Robitaille (Sorcier Des Glaces), instead of them sounding like bees buzzing harmlessly in the background, Domico’s guitars have a bite and heft that was sorely missing on the debut, and Giordano’s tremendous leads and tremolo melodies carry an airy, almost downright jubilant vibe to them, such as on “The Delphic Temple Part I – Consulting the Pythia” and the jaw-dropping instrumental, “Epistemology Reduced to Absurdity.” The things that caused some genuine “you folks need to hear this” moments on Zarathustrian Impressions were not only left alone, but they’re increased in intensity here.

Another key change found here is the varied, polyrhythmic flourishes by Mefitis drummer Pendath. While I miss the absolutely blistering drumming of previous drummer Jacob Nunn, I’ll be the first to admit that Pendath fits the overall vibe of both Return of the Sophist and the overall vibe of Polemicist better. His fills on “The Cave of Gaia” and “The Delphic Temple Part II – The Oracle’s Response” help elevate the duo’s tight riffs and songwriting even further, upping their already impressive stock considerably. The only nitpick I have, and it is a nitpick, is there are almost half as many instrumentals on here as there are standard songs. Mind you, those three instrumentals are not only key to the album’s overall story, but are all impressive, so I’m not kidding that it’s a nitpick. Also, at a brisk 30 minutes and some change, it leaves me wanting more. Again, not a bad thing whatsoever.

Like I said earlier, I had a hunch on my last review that Polemicist could be turning heads and taking names in the future. I just didn’t expect that future to happen so damn fast, so damn soon. I’m not complaining, though. Zarathustrian Impressions was a glimpse at a young band full of promise and talent. Return of the Sophist is that talent coming to fruition, and a statement of intent from a duo with considerable chops and songwriting growth. Miss this at your expense.

Rating: 4.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hessian Firm
Website: polemicistmetal.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: June 25th, 2021

Show 1 footnote

  1. The early bird catches the metal wvrms! – Steel
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