Arizona “deathgaze” troupe Kardashev have spent the last decade or so challenging the notion that there’s no room for beauty within the brutality of metal. Inspired by “technology, love, and altruism” – as their official site puts it – they compare themselves to top-notch acts like The Contortionist, Rivers of Nihil, and perhaps most fittingly, Alcest. Last year, they released The Baring of Shadows, a triumphant four-song EP that perfected those dichotomies to serve as the best example yet of the band’s ability to mesh hellish and heavenly aesthetics.
In fact, the collection was so impressive that it got Kardashev signed to Metal Blade Records, who are now reissuing The Baring of Shadows with instrumental versions of all four tunes (thereby fleshing it out to be a full-length collection). Unsurprisingly, it’s just as commendably enchanting, ambitious, and polished. True, the bonus tracks don’t accomplish much other than removing the vocals, but in doing so, they at least permit a few timbres and moments to stand out more than on their official counterparts. Thus, it’s a superior sequence that finds Kardashev—now comprised of lyricist/vocalist Mark Garret, drummer Sean Lang, composer/guitarist Nico Mirolla, and bassist Alexander Adin Rieth—at the top of their game.
The group describes the LP’s central theme as being connected to shared “hardships,” as well as “the pain of loss and the truth that is accepting the natural order, albeit chaotic.” Expectedly, the opener “A Frame. A Light” (which tackles someone’s guilt and longing after finding their family member’s suicide) does a great job establishing both the musical and conceptual natures of The Baring of Shadows. Light electric guitar arpeggios and steadfast rhythms provide an enticingly moody introduction; suddenly, distortion and aggression kick in to ostensibly represent the duality of anger and anguish inherent in the discovery. Garret excels at juxtaposing operatically falsetto singing with absolutely devilish interruptions, and his words – “Across from me / An empty frame / But light against the wall / Your light against the wall / Come home to me!” – are subtly poetic and devastating given their context. All the while, the music is equally adept at balancing its crushing foundations with glimpses of atmospheric catharsis.
Luckily, the remaining three pieces more or less achieve the same tonal and thematic heights. In particular, “Snow-Sleep” suitably captures the wintery magnificence of Agalloch’s The Mantle and Borknagar’s True North (that is, without the acoustic and/or symphonic elements). It’s a gentler, sadder, and more melodically rich composition overall, but there’s still plenty of harshness in the middle. (The closing vocal counterpoints and ambiance are downright angelic.) In contrast, “Torchpassing”—which explores an adult watching their parent die in hospice—is especially erratic vocally and musically, so you never quite know when the next temperamental shift will occur. As for closer “Heartache,” it’s a bit more straightforward and consistent with its roughness, using softer shades sparingly and with less depth. That’s more of an observation than a complaint, of course, since it nonetheless results in an exhilaratingly tragic finale.
Again, the instrumental variations of those songs feel more like novelties than necessities; that said, the absence of Garret’s voice allows the textures to breathe more so that it’s easier to get lost inside them. Specifically, the faint murmurs halfway through “A Frame. A Light” are clearer, the spectral dissonance that closes “Snow-Sleep” is a tad more chilling, and the djent-esque fury within “Heartache” seems increasingly multilayered and challenging. By no means are they essentially or drastically different versions, but they do shine a new light on the musicianship that may otherwise be buried beneath Garret’s commanding presence.
Even if the additional four tracks are mostly negligible, they do just enough to warrant their place and make this expanded reissue of The Baring of Shadows a better and fuller experience. The core material still comprises Kardashev greatest mergers of elegance and vehemence, with the tightest playing, most affective songwriting, and most captivating singing of their career. It’s a must-hear for fans of the style, and it makes the wait for the quartet’s next EP (or, hopefully, LP) that much harder.