How and why Quebec became the epicentre of technical death metal is hard to answer, but the Canadian province can boast Gorguts, Beyond Creation, Neuraxis, Beneath the Massacre and Augury as progenitors of the genre. The latter band is where bassist, Christian Pacaud, learned his trade on the live stage before leaving Augury to pursue a solo project based on collaborations and a disregard for established genres. Now ready to release his sophomore effort with a permanent band featuring Antoine Guertin (Aeternam, Hillward) on drums and the dual guitar attack of Antoine Baril (Augury, From Dying Suns) and Maxime Rochefort (From Dying Suns), Pacaud remains chief composer of Contemplator but allows his fellow musicians to bring their own flavour to the mix. It goes without saying that the outcome lies somewhere between jazz fusion and metal, but it makes for an enjoyable forty-four minutes of sophisticated instrumental music.
Pacaud’s addition of Jeff Ball on violin and viola lends Contemplator a sorrowful texture that is often absent in this type of art, especially on opener, ‘Rite of Shards’, which sees the delicate piano introspection of Francis Grégoire join him in creating a state of unease. The mood here is one of catastrophe, but an unexpected one, like a simple walk in the park that turns into an assault from a prowler in the bushes. It’s a perfect platform for an eruption of technical thrash with unusual chord formations and stop-start drums. Listeners will notice an affinity with American composer, Nick Vasallo, who learned his craft in deathcore pioneers, Antagony, before embarking on a career as a music professor. Like him, Pacaud can step back from the ensemble of participating instruments to assess the flow of each one as a tributary to a larger entity. His basslines weave through the guitars and drums like an independent current of electricity operating on its own circuit. It’s true that you need to be at a high standard of musical theory to write something like this and follow up track, ‘Vestigial’. Cynic are a big influence on the percussive jazz rhythms and sparkling guitar chords, but the blast beats and dissonant riffs that evolve from here remind you that Contemplator are a metal band more than anything else.
It’s easy to overlook the heavy aspects of this record, but the likes of ‘Ephemeron’ and ‘The Catch’ pulsate with a metallic crunch on the downbeat. The former uses a similar spectrum of chord choices to Voivod’s Dan Mongrain; the latter relies on chugging riffs that work outside of common time signatures. You can reach for the air guitar or finger-plucking upstrokes of an imaginary bass as you take your seat at a university auditorium for PhD students. Bedazzlement is a requisite for this type of music, but it need not be the only virtue. Listen to the John Barry-esque symphonics and colourful whistles of ‘Zero Mask’ as it melds celestial keyboard passages with twinkling guitar arpeggios and works towards a metallic frenzy of crunchy palm-muted rhythms. Your mind tries to process the pleasant vibrations with the rational aggression of the heavier parts and lapses into confusion. Maybe this is the only criticism of Morphose. The wide colour palette requires violent mood shifts that would be detrimental to those with bipolar disorder and those of you that value equilibrium in your daily lives.
If there’s one song that encapsulates Contemplator, it must be closing track, ‘Idol Obedience’. How does Pacaud find so much melodic resonance among the cacophony of technical metal passages? His alternating dynamics between distortion and clean mode are straight from the Stravinsky playbook, yet his fretless bass soloing over the top of Jeff Ball’s violins give it a filmic texture that would not be out of place in a new series of Bosch. Clearly, metal musicians appreciate the technical challenge of playing jazz, but do jazz musicians reciprocate when expanding their knowledge? On this evidence, Pacaud can be confident that they will.
There’s no need to prepare for your mind to be blown, but you might want to imagine pockets of breeze blowing down your neck as your heartrate follows the ups and down of the tempo changes and sharp dynamic twists. This is music that can relax you and re-energise you at the same time.
Release Date: 29/07/2022
Record Label: Nefarious Industries
Standout tracks: Rite of Shards, Ephemeron, Zero Mask
Suggested Further Listening: 30 Immolated; 16 Returned – The Burial of the Dead (2021), Nick Vasallo – Apophany (2022), Dagtum – Revered Decadence (2021)