Admission time: My timing, when it comes to our promo bin, quite frankly sucks. By the time it comes to reviewing a new album, either the week is spoken for due to my teammates devouring the contents of the bin in record time, or there’s some slim pickings in the bin. Case in point: Zarathustrian Impressions, the debut album from Pennsylvanian newcomers Polemicist, was one of a paltry few remaining albums left for me to scour1. I dunno if it’s because it’s yet another blackened death metal album, or the fact that the album was yet another that centered around Friedrich Nietzche,2 but there it was, just lying there in the promo bin, wanting attention and a review by yours truly in ways either whimsical, nihilistic, or apathetic.
So first off, let me rip off the bandage as quickly as possible. The mix and production feel a bit too sterile, as the drums sound a bit too clinical and computerized (even though it’s obvious they have a human playing). Worse yet, the guitars are too tinny and thin. They sound like they’re running through a mixer without any mid-range, which causes the guitars to lack punch and heft. This is especially problematic considering that both lead guitarist Lydia Giordano and vocalist/rhythm guitarist Josiah Domico operate exclusively in Tremolo Mode for about 85% of the album’s total run time. Also, the first few songs after the intro suffer a bit from too much repetition (especially the middle of “Revenge of the Tarantulas”), and honestly they had me worried that they were biting off more than they could chew.
But holy fuckballs, do they right the ship immediately after. From the middle of “Life Overcoming Itself,” where the band tips its hat a bit to the uplifting power of prime Heaven Shall Burn (complete with crushing drums by Jacob Nunn), on through to the closing seconds of album finale “Return to Solitude,” Polemicist take the iciness of prime Immortal, the tension and melodic curveballs of Dark Tranquillity, and the Popeye-like forearms necessary to commit to Bolt Thrower tremolo worship at this magnitude, and concocted a beast of an album without sounding like any of the aforementioned. Elsewhere, Giordano rips one hell of a solo near the end of “On Redemption,” which gives the song a cinematic, almost sci-fi feel. But album standout (and potential Song o’ the Year candidate) “The Convalescent” leaves the biggest mark, where spaced-out tremolo melodies, various twists and turns, and an ending where I’m surprised Nunn was able to walk or move his arms after slaughtering his kit at warp speed, left my jaw on the floor for a couple minutes after it finally ended.
Normally, most albums we review are front-loaded with their best songs. Zarathustrian Impressions, however, went the opposite direction, as the album steadily got better and better towards the end. This is quite a gamble for Polemicist to make, and it could have easily backfired on them. While neither “Concerning the Rabble” nor “Revenge of the Tarantulas” are terrible, they don’t exactly showcase Polemicist‘s considerable strengths as much as the rest of the album clearly does. Perhaps a bit of a shuffle could have eliminated this problem. Also, I would heavily suggest balancing out the guitars more, as there are times the tremolo melodies sound a bit too much like buzzing bees due to being so thin, and beefing up the almost non-existent bass couldn’t hurt either.
But I can’t avoid recommending this. It’s not often that I’m blown away by a blackened death metal band anymore, but Polemicist knocked me on my ass with Zarathustrian Impressions. Sure, the mix and guitar tone will drive away some of you, but what’s not up for debate is that the band houses some incredible talent, and I guarantee that in a couple years time, they’ll be severing heads with their breakneck brand of speed and melody. Big things are assuredly ahead for them, and there’s no better time to hop on that wagon than now.