Kardashev – Liminal Rite


Arizona quartet, Kardashev, impressed Metal Blade Records with their 2015 debut record, even though they have no live presence and anchor their sound to the obscure “deathgaze” tag. It’s quite an achievement to land a deal with a major player for a sophomore album, but it’s one that shows the impeccable tastes of Brian Slagel and the risks he likes to take with experimental artists. The chances are you’ve never heard anything like Liminal Rite. Could Kardashev be the progenitors of a new sub-genre we might call ethereal death metal?

Liminal Rite should be a difficult album to digest. At fifty-nine minutes in length, it will invite your scepticism before Kardashev sound their first note. Can a linear spoken word narrative keep you interested as the band harvest through many styles and leave little behind for repetition? Yes, it can. The strongest aspect of this record is its ability to mesmerise at every turn. Listen how the atmospheric guitar swells and punchy blast beats of ‘Silvered Shadows’ lead into a drop-tuned bass contemplation with mournful vocals. How does Mark Garrett switch between the grisly death metal growls, a Sade head voice, and a solemn Gregorian harmony in the space of two minutes? Those that wanted more from the recent Astronoid album will find satiation here. Sean Lang’s double-kick patterns and crisp pocket grooves prevent Kardashev from falling into a solipsistic trap of shoegaze meandering. Make no mistake – this is an extreme metal record. But it also proves that the good cop/bad cop approach need not be a tired juxtaposition of self-pity and melodramatic rage.

You’ll hear the sinister might of Opeth and the bleak self-examination of The Cure in ‘Apparitions in Candlelight’. An analysis of the lyrics reveals a fascinating story of one man’s descent into nostalgic obsessions as the demons of dementia rob him of his hold on the truth. Who is he? Who loved him? Who did he love? ‘Lavender Calligraphy’ poses the question – might Kardashev be one of the few metal bands, along with Tesseract, that sound like adults rather than self-conscious millennials opening up a conversation on mental health taboos? With Kardashev, you don’t know whether to grimace or to mourn. One moment they blast through a black metal cacophony, yet the next passage forces you into the bowed head position as you grieve the things that can never return.

The slow chugging guitars of ‘Compost Grave-Song’ are what Black Crown Initiate would sound like if asked to cover Paradise Lost. There’s nothing lo-fi about this “gaze”. Indeed, the blast beats and monstrous aggression will remind you of the last Rivers of Nihil record. Adjust your opinion if you thought Rolo Tomassi were the only band capable of combining blistering post-metal with transcendent dream rock. Garret’s roars will flatten your nose and tighten your throat muscles as you try to stay composed in his line of fire. ‘Cellar of Ghosts’ shows that Kardashev are a band that understand the emotive power of contrasting dynamics.

Leaving the absurd deathgaze label aside, it’s better to place Kardashev into the diverse prog metal category next to The Ocean and their fellow Germans in The Spirit. ‘A Vagabond’s Lament’ provides eight minutes of minimalist textures with a wild streak of spontaneous improvisation. You can hear elements of post-metal and darkwave in the same song, like somebody asked them to merge Lycia with Cult of Luna. Closing track, ‘Beyond the Passage’ is what you would get it you asked the latter to cover ‘The Same Deep Water as You’ by The Cure. Fuzzy guitars and dreamy saxophone notes cut through the introspection like fire and water. “Even the cicadas sound different/ I cannot fathom how,” narrates drummer, Sean Lang, once you lower your arms at the end of a muscular doom metal finale. This is dark musical theatre.

Seldom do you hear a record and wonder if its creators are onto something beyond the comprehension of that which came before it. Time will tell if Liminal Rite proves to be influential on the evolution of modern metal, but you can be sure it will go down as a cult classic.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 10/06/2022

Record Label: Metal Blade

Standout tracks: Silvered Shadows, Compost Grave- Song, Beyond the Passage of Embers

Suggested Further Listening: Rivers of Nihil – The Work (2021), Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory (2022), The Ocean – Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic (2020)